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Wizards of Poz, the Turning Tina Campaign and The Institute of Many (TIM): Part 2 of the Nic Holas Interview

April 18, 2016

Nic Holas media appearance

Here is part two of my interview with Nic. Read part one.

Did the Wizards of Poz and Turning Tina develop through the events and gatherings of your members? Tell me more about each, for instance, is Turning Tina published or just online?

Wizards of Poz and Turning Tina both came about thanks to the contributions of the TIM community. With Wizards, we wanted to run a digital campaign for and by HIV-positive people. As we're not tied to any funding obligations to do health promotion, we had a chance to do an empowerment campaign that was fun, colorful and a bit sexy. It all started from a running joke in TIM that Jeff and I as co-founders are like Glinda and the Wicked Witch (he's super sweet; I'm an asshole).

There was a group of members who had put themselves out there in the public eye as members of TIM to discuss their experiences of HIV, and we wanted to celebrate them, which is how we "cast" all the characters. Add to that, a lot of people behind the scenes on the shoot were also members of TIM, so it was very much a labor of love. The reaction was overwhelmingly great, and it featured on the cover of gay news magazines and all over the net.

Turning Tina came about in a very different way. Discussions in TIM relating to crystal meth were often heated, with a lot of diverse opinions on the subject based on people's varied experiences. The government was running a fear-based campaign at the same time, and the media were running with it, which was adding to the stigma associated with using meth, which prevents people from talking about it. If they're afraid to talk about it, they won't know how to ask for help.


Brent Allan from Living Positive Victoria, a PLHIV [people living with HIV] organization, saw the conversations taking place in TIM and thought it could be a great opportunity to speak with a range of HIV-positive guys who were recreational users, former users, problematic users in recovery and people who had never used. Based on an informal survey, community events in Sydney and Melbourne, and just under 12 months of ongoing discussions with HIV-positive people who use crystal meth, we came up with a four-part online resource: Turning Tina.

The chapters explore the many potential ways Tina can impact your life, the signs to look out for if you're overdoing it and some practical advice for those who have already chosen to use. Throughout the entire resource are quotes from current and former users, placing the community experience at the heart of the resource.

How has Turning Tina been received and what do you hope to achieve through the series?

The reaction has been great; thousands of people have viewed the resource, and feedback from the harm reduction sector in Australia has remarked that nothing like this has been attempted before. We were bracing for a bit of backlash, given how the drug (and the stigma attached to using it) potentially affects people, but I think more people are understanding that the "just say no" approach has never worked, and that the War on Drugs has done more harm than good.

Due to the stigma associated with drug use, particularly at the moment crystal meth, people aren't exactly sharing Turning Tina far and wide, or posting it on their friends' Facebook walls to start a conversation. People are reading it though, and some reach out to us privately and share how it's helped them, which is an act of bravery in itself. We are attempting to raise funds to print Turning Tina as a discrete little booklet, too.

The Wizards of Poz

Harm reduction is an important component of all of TIM's work, particularly Turning Tina. Harm reduction should be an important part of all work to reduce stigma in all categories. But in reducing the stigma and opening dialogues, I worry some of the "tough love" side of making change goes away. For instance, where do you see the fine line between suggesting someone might have a problem with meth and saying, "Enough is enough?"

This is a great question, because it's one of the things that drove us to get the resource into the world. Harm reduction identifies stigma as definitely part of the problem, but it goes way beyond that to empower the person using drugs to make the most informed choices possible and understand the very real risks associated with their behavior. Part of that is definitely opening up dialogues, be that via community advocates, resources, peers (i.e., other people who use drugs), or allies (doctors, friends, etc.).

The opposite of that dialogue is effectively silence, shame and a lot of dead ends.

I go into more detail about it in this article.

There are terrific groups of people in the States that come together to support each other, but a lot of those are LGBT specific or smaller tight-knit groups. But I believe something with more structure where like-minded people get together for drinks to talk about things like the TIM values could be very valuable in bringing us together, bridging the gaps between our communities and getting us on the same page here in the U.S. How does one go about building a community like the TIM group?

To be honest, building TIM has been a massive undertaking. The reason it works is because we have tried to be as clear as possible when it comes to our purpose, motivation and values. That is reflected in how we moderate the group, which means sometimes calling people out if they behave in a way that is contrary to those values. That can be hard, but the change we believe in isn't just about reminding the billions of HIV-negative people that HIV/AIDS is still a global issue. We need to change too, let go of some things (without forgetting other things), and we white gay men in particular have to be better at making room for the women, people of color, trans folk and others who live with HIV. There are far more of them than us, but sometimes I think we hold on to the misconception that HIV is "our thing."

We haven't pushed that hard in establishing TIM communities in the U.S., despite my co-founder Jeff Lange being a South Carolina native. The need is there, but I think the execution would be a little different. TIM exists because Australia was able to effectively end AIDS, and the space that was left in its absence allows us the ability to focus on things like stigma and resilience. It's a privileged position to be in. That thousands of people still die from AIDS-related causes in such a powerful, wealthy nation like the U.S. is a terrible injustice. The TIM model could work really well in the U.S. to develop community resilience and allow people to step up and be heard -- but that requires listening. Like Australians, you folks are great talkers, but I don't always see such empathetic listening going on!

Unfortunately I tend to agree with Nic on this, there's A LOT of hot air in our activism community but not a lot of empathy. So when I think about the idea of stepping up and creating TIMerica, I'm immediately hit with the challenge of getting everyone involved on the same page, finding a way to keep all the conversations civil, getting everyone to join AND participate in the events, moderating the forums and creating real life events that everyone can enjoy but which potentially include events at bars or clubs where alcohol is served.

Overall I have mixed feelings about making TIMerica work, but I want to open up the discussion to my readers in the comments below. Let's have a CIVIL and constructive conversation about creating something similar to TIM here in the U.S. Do we have something like it already? Could it potentially be a way to get our much-splintered community back on the same page? Because of the limited options for people dealing with meth, would it be beneficial to start by focusing TIMerica on meth or focus on both HIV and meth? Where do we go from here?

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One Hell of a Positive Methage

Danny Pintauro

Danny Pintauro

Danny Pintauro is best known for his eight-year run as Jonathan Bower on television's Who's The Boss? Danny began his professional career at the age of 2 as a model and commercial actor; at age 3 he began a five-year contract role on CBS-TV's daytime drama, As the World Turns, which was followed by his acclaimed film debut as Tad in Stephen King's Cujo.

Recent revelations on OWN's Where Are They Now show have led to a new path as activist for Danny. Coming out publicly with Oprah about being HIV positive and having battled a meth problem earned him the "Courage Award" from Whitman Walker Health, the "My Hero Award" from AID for AIDS and soon the "Steve Chase Humanitarian Award" from the Desert AIDS Project. Stay tuned to his blog as he writes about his year-long activism venture called "The Beacon of Light Tour."

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