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Mondo Guerra Is Going to Dress You Up in HIV Awareness

December 19, 2013

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Mondo Guerra

Mondo Guerra

Mondo Guerra was once perhaps the least likely of HIV activists. After being closeted about his own HIV-positive status for 10 years and pursuing a career as a fashion designer, his disclosure of his status on Project Runway turned him into an overnight celebrity activist.

Now, his life is dedicated to Project I Design, which encourages people living with HIV to take control of their own health. Mondo sat down with TheBody.com to discuss the new designs he unveiled for World AIDS Day 2013, his experiences with the community at the U.S. Conference on AIDS, and hearing stories from fans.

Can you tell us what Project I Design has been up to in the past year?

This is my second year on the Project I Design campaign, in collaboration with Merck. This year we joined forces with Duane Cramer, who is a world-renowned photographer. He's come on as another co-spokesperson. We're really happy to have him. I feel like, with our two voices, there's strength in numbers.

The major thing that has happened is that we went to the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in New Orleans this past year. Once again, we had a community-focused art project at the conference. We invited people from the community, not only people living with HIV, but people that work in the field -- maybe they're from local AIDS service organizations, or they're medical doctors -- they were encouraged to participate.

Over the course of three days, we collaborated on the mural through painting different shapes. Each shape represented a different step that we like to talk about in our messaging with the I Design campaign -- to reflect what we say in our messaging. I Design is a national HIV campaign, encouraging people living with HIV to take a proactive approach in their healthy life by having a completely open dialogue with their medical doctor and, this way, to really find the treatment that works best for them.

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We've spoken to you several times about I Design. Anything that fosters patient empowerment, that's exactly what TheBody.com is about, and I think that's also what I Design is about.

I'm really happy that I'm able to be part of this campaign. Because, before I joined the campaign, first of all, I didn't talk about my HIV-positive status for 10 years. It came out on an episode of Project Runway. I think you've heard the story before: After the episode aired, I was just overwhelmed by the love and support and encouragement from the community -- not just the HIV community, but the community at large. It gave me the courage to continue the conversation about HIV. And so, when Merck approached me to be part of the I Design program, I said, "Yes," of course.

I feel that on our collaboration we really built a campaign that resonates with a lot of people. If you visit the website, projectidesign.com, you can access this very important information. But for me, it was important not to make it so clinical, and so black and white. It has to be easy information that you can digest. There are certain elements of the website that you can download to help you be prepared to have that conversation with your doctor -- such as a checklist.

The fun thing about it, also, is that I had this idea that when people feel like they are involved, they have a tendency to be more empowered, like you said. There's an opportunity to create a textile on the website and upload it, and share it with the world, so to speak.

There are a lot of things that I feel have helped me move forward within the campaign -- such as being able to create and share.

It's funny. Because, I can tell you, from my experience going to the United States Conference on AIDS for the past two years: When people come into our booth and participate in these community projects, it's a different approach to opening a conversation. And these conversations that I have with people that are participating are really the conversations that encourage me and make me want to work harder.

One of the main messaging points from the campaign is having a conversation with your doctor. But I really feel like having a conversation with yourself is number one in being able to talk about your status, and talk about what you need -- not only from your doctor, but from the people around you, your support system.

Because being HIV positive is a huge responsibility. And it's OK to ask for help. As long as we continue to share stories -- at least for me -- those stories really help me.

Actually, I was at USCA. I saw you from afar in one of the plenary sessions, but I didn't get to go up and say "Hi" to you because I was working TheBody.com's booth.

The conference in New Orleans was so wonderful this year. I just felt like it was so successful, at least for the I Design program. I felt like our plenary session went wonderfully. It was nice and relaxed. And that's what our whole campaign is about; it's about being able to take it in and put it out there. So I was really, really pleased. I think everybody had a really great time.

And also, during the conference, I revealed this scarf that I created for the 25th World AIDS Day. It's a print that I designed that is reflective of the original Pozitivity print that I created on Project Runway. But this year I really wanted to focus on changing it up a little bit, and adding more color, representing the diversity within the community.

If you take a look at the print, it actually looks like the plus signs are holding hands. I think that represents strength. And I think it's a really wonderful print. And now, it's available on my website, mondoguerra.com.

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