New campaign aims at leveling the field between people of any HIV status

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There’s a new social media campaign that launched a week before Halloween with the aim of making HIV less scary – it’s called HIV HIV Equal.

The reason?

Because according to the promotional film for it, “we are all equal.” It’s being handled by Connecticut-based World Health Clinicians, a non-profit dedicated to curtailing the spread of HIV. This specific campaign is the brainchild of celebrity photographer Thomas Evans and Jack Mackenroth, who was profiled in April in SFGN. Mackenroth, best known for being an openly poz contestant on Project Runway, has dealt his hand to HIV activism in the past, most recently with the launch of Volttage.com, a dating/hook up website that focuses on the positive community. This time, it seems he’ll be emulating the NoH8 campaign’s photo campaign.

“People love to place blame on anything that is ‘other’ so they can justify why it won’t happen to them,” Mackenroth told SFGN. “Unfortunately, as a culture we have bought into that belief and as a result many HIV-positive people internalize the blame and feel immense shame about their status. HIV Equal is meant to show that there are legions of people who reject the notion that we should be judged by our HIV-status. No one is perfect.”

It’s all very simple: The campaign is a collection of photos of people (celebrities for now) wearing the emblematic HIV Equal logo (HIV and an equal sign) somewhere on their bodies. Then come high-res photos, and then comes the sharing.

More specifically:

  • Participants take a photo.
  • *Participants take an HIV test.
  • Individuals are photographed with a unique “HIV=” logo, which strategically appears on their body.
  • As a play on the word “status,” a unique caption will read ‘STATUS:_______,’ and every model picks a word that exemplifies one aspect of their personality.
  • “Basically we are taking photos of individuals—positive and negative—with our HIV= logo on their body and then they also get tested for HIV,” Mackenroth told SFGN. “It's really going to be amazing.”

    WHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Blick is heading the medical aspect of the campaign

    “It’s crucial to restart the national dialogue about HIV and HIV testing since the recent CDC statistics suggest that the younger generations are the most vulnerable when it comes to new HIV infections, as data from 2010 cites that over 90 percent of new HIV infections are found in young men ages 13-34,” Blick said in a statement. “HIV Equal appeals directly to that demographic.”

    SFGN covered the launch party for the campaign, but Mackenroth to see how things have been doing.

    He said there was a problem.

    “The wellness event on was amazing. We HIV tested and photographed over 150 individuals for HIV Equal in 4 hours and the attendance was so overwhelming, we actually couldn't handle the volume so we could have even done more,” Mackenroth told SFGN. “But a great turnout for our first event. I would grade the event a 9 just because we weren't prepared for such massive success—a great problem to have!”

    But on a serious note, Mackenroth wants more. He’s not satisfied.

    “As far as the HIV Equal campaign overall I would rate it a 9 as well because it's really amazing but there is always room for improvement. Since our launch on Oct. 14 we've been published in over 600 media outlets with articles in Huffington Post, POZ, HIV Plus, Queerty, Next, Towleroad, Edge and the list goes on and on.”

    In one month, the campaign’s social media had exploded, too. Its Twitter account (@HIVequal) had more than 2,000 followers. And its Facebook page was about one hundred Likes from achieving the same goal.

    HIV Equal is quickly adding more celebrities to it’s ranks including Bruce Vilanch, Greg Louganis, Adam Bouska, Alec Mapa, Chi Chi La Rue, and “the list goes on!” Mackenroth promised.

    What’s the end goal?

    “There is no end goal—unless of course we find a cure for HIV. It's an ongoing project. We just want HIV Equal to grow exponentially and continue to spread across the country,” Mackenroth said. “We want the photos by Thomas Evans to become synonymous with HIV awareness when people see the black background and the magenta glow. We want to take the campaign all over the country as a mobile testing initiative and get people involved again in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The possibilities are endless.”

    For more information, go to HIVequal.org.


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