The Key to the Toolbox

By Rob Banaszak on December 6, 2013 in m2mPower

by Joseph Sedillo, HIV Testing Coordinator
Cascade AIDS Project

Over the years we have been able to add many tools to the HIV prevention toolbox. From advances in PrEP to being more open to sex-positive dialogue, we now have several skills to help people stay healthy (regardless of their HIV-status). But one thing that we still struggle with is the stigma around HIV. It keeps us from being open about our status, talking with our partners, and is fueling this HIV epidemic, especially among gay and bisexual men. Thirty years into this epidemic and stigma is still something that is plaguing our community.

So we were grateful to learn about AIDS United’s video contest because it gave us an opportunity to show how we plan on combating stigma in our community. We believe that knowing your HIV status, positive or negative, is the key that opens the HIV prevention toolbox. And that’s what inspired the theme of our video, “Knowing.”



I turned to my friends, coworkers, and volunteers for their help. I asked how they would feel about having their status painted on their bodies and showing the world that they were okay with who they were. The reaction I got was overwhelmingly positive (no pun intended). I realized that I kind of live in a bubble, where I don’t really see my friends and coworkers as pluses and minuses. But people on the outside might not know people who are positive, and I wanted to be able to show that it is possible to live openly as a queer man with or without HIV.

Making the video was a blast! People came together and let me act as a makeup artist and director and the experience was playful and open. I was really proud of one of our models because this video was the first time that he was publicly acknowledging his HIV-positive status. How amazing that this video provided a vessel for him to come out in a big way!

When I sat down to edit the video, I realized that we had something really special. Stringing together these film clips of my queer friends with their statuses portrayed unabashedly on their bodies got me kind of emotional. What if we could all be like this? What if the world was okay with this? And then I knew that this is how it starts, one person at a time. The video became a labor of love for me. I recall the deadline was approaching —  it was 3am — , and I was almost done. “We need a narrator,” I thought. “We need words to go with this.” And then they just came out. I recorded the voiceover in a couple of takes in my dark closet (the irony is not lost on me here) so I wouldn’t wake up my roommates.  The  project was complete.

What came next was truly heartwarming. The response to the video was wonderful. Our staff members were really pleased with how it turned out and reactions from the community were even more exciting. And when people found out that the video was part of a contest with a $4000 prize it was a pretty easy sell. However, since we didn’t find out about the contest until late in the game, there were several other organizations that were way ahead of us in votes.

We set a goal of getting 1000 votes by the end of the voting period. We knew it was an ambitious goal but we wanted something that we could strive for. We thought if we could reach 1000 people with this powerful message it would be quite an accomplishment! And so the social media campaign began. We asked everyone in our agency to post the video to Facebook and to message their friends personally and speak out about why voting was important. We created some still photos from the video and made posters to put in our community center. And of course, our staff got plenty of reminders from me to vote every day.

When we found out that we won the video contest we were incredibly excited! But it was more than just about the money. We had produced something that we were proud of and that our community responded to. That was and is invaluable to us. We have since shown the video to some of our funders, to community partners, and most recently, at the United States Conference on AIDS.

 

We hope to continue sharing this video to queer men in our community to inspire them to take charge of their sexual health.  Ideally, it will help further the conversation around HIV and sexual relationships. Hookups, boyfriends, polyamory, it doesn’t matter. We don’t care what kind of sex you’re having or who you’re having it with but we want to destigmatize HIV and encourage you to talk about it. In a time where HIV rates are rising again in the gay community we need all the help we can get in order to get people talking, get people tested, and work to ensure wellness for all.

 

 

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