’Speak Out’ Campaigns Against HIV Stigma
The signs are hard to miss.
Exit a Muni train at the Castro station, and the wall-sized posters are greeting you as the doors slide open. The message - it is time to start talking about HIV and AIDS. Or, as Vincent Fuqua, program coordinator for the San Francisco Department of Public Health put it, "find our voice again."
"As long as people are still becoming infected with HIV, as long as people are still HIV-positive," Fuqua said, "it’s still a part of us."
The Department of Public Health, along with the national Greater Than AIDS initiative and the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently introduced Speak Out: Let’s Bring HIV Out of the Closet, a social marketing campaign aimed at encouraging men not only to get tested for HIV regularly, but also to speak openly about their status and the disease in general, as a way to remove some of the stigma within the community associated with being HIV-positive.
"We understand that there’s been a lot of strides in the gay community, which is incredible. The thing is, though, HIV is still a big part of our community as well. So we wanted to make sure people don’t forget that," Fuqua said.
The campaign was introduced October 10 at Blush Wine Bar in the Castro. It will extend to other cities next year.
Along with the highly visible billboards in the Castro Muni station, the campaign also includes an online video featuring seven gay men of different ages, races, and statuses, discussing how men are talking about, and dealing with HIV, some three decades after the disease’s initial outbreak.
Steve Iberra was one of those men. At Blush, he said that, as an HIV-positive man, he was motivated to come forward and help spark the dialogue this campaign aims to start.
In terms of stigma, though, Iberra said he hasn’t experienced any personally because he is "not exactly HIV material."
But because you can’t tell a person’s status by looking at them, Iberra said he wants to see the community start talking about HIV, "before we meet people."