February 8, 2013
According to data from the Wisconsin HIV Surveillance System, the rates of HIV incidence among young black men, particularly those having sex with other men, are increasing faster than in any other demographic. The HIV infection rate among black men in Milwaukee is approximately eight times higher than it is for Caucasians. The "Acceptance Journeys" project is a campaign fighting to change these numbers. It features stories and photos combined with the tag line, "Whose life could you change with love?" on posters and billboards across Milwaukee. Acceptance Journeys seeks to remove the negative stigma that exists toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people in some parts of the African-American community. The campaign has spurred the community around this issue, according to Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, who calls it a "game-changer."
The nonprofit organization Diverse and Resilient initiated the campaign and has incorporated partners, including the city of Milwaukee. Gary Hollander, Diverse and Resilient's director, declares that past efforts in HIV prevention have been successful on the biological side in creating access to counseling, testing, and further health care; however, he emphasizes that it is the behavioral side that needs to be addressed. The Acceptance Journeys campaign is, therefore, attempting to promote that acceptance. The simple message of human value and love was in line with the community's readiness to hear this message. Hollander declares, "We want to ease people into the notion that your neighbors, your friends, your family members, people like you, people you love are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and really require your support." Baker and Hollander point out that the Acceptance Journeys campaign is comprised of more than just tolerance, but is rather about true acceptance. Baker hopes that this message will take hold in Milwaukee and go far beyond the city.