HIV Frontlines: In Newark, N.J., an HIV/AIDS Advocate Finds New Ways to Reach LGBT African Americans
A Conversation With Gary Paul Wright
October 18, 2010
I wanted to go back to the Status Is Everything campaign. I thought one of the most powerful components was the affirming-ness of it all. You had YouTube clips, PSAs [public service announcements]; I mean, it was very, very affirmative. And I think that has been lacking in some of the prevention campaigns that we have seen. I don't know if you remember the one in Philadelphia maybe four or five years ago. But it was where the black man was at the crosshairs of a gun. And they were saying how AIDS was like a bullet.
I do remember that.
You know, in an area where gun violence that summer -- there had been so many shootings in Philly. And I just think it shows a lack of cultural competency. But it also just shows a lack of sensitivity. And so that's what I thought was really interesting about your campaign: just how affirming it was.
Again, that's what our community told us they wanted. And when I say our community: We did focus groups with young people; we did focus groups with young people who were in the houses; who were not in the houses; we had a group of, shall I say, elder gentlemen -- my age, 55 and older, some mature guys; and a lot in between. And I think each one of those had maybe just a twinkling of the transgender community in each of them, as well.
We just tried to give them what they said they wanted. They wanted to see people who looked like them. And by them, that's like thugs, or Banshee boys, preppy, businessman, and trans. This is who they said they wanted to see. So we took that and FEMWORKS came up with this whole concept about, you know, knowledge is key, and things like that. And it is an affirming thing. We've tried not to be negative. Yeah. Very good. Very observant on your part.
Thank you. I just think that it's something that is lacking. And that's the hard thing about HIV prevention: You don't want for people to contract HIV, so in some kind of means, you want to be cautionary. But then you also don't want to offend the people who are actually living with it. And it's a very fine line to draw.
Because the reality is that people are going to be testing positive, especially if you're encouraging them to test. Because that's part of the problem: People aren't getting tested. And so people don't know. And so when they get tested, the reality is that their result may not be negative.
There you go. There you go. You know what? And that's a real fear. And it's a reality.
One of the things we try to do here is prepare people to go take the test. We also try to have things in place -- and everybody should -- that if they do test positive, what happens now? We don't want you to get a slip of paper that says, "Ah-ha! You're now positive. Bye-bye!"
One of the things I thought was really profound that was said at the launch in Newark for the campaign was, one of the women -- I don't remember her name -- but she stood up and she said that if you're walking around, not knowing your status, thinking that if you test positive, it's the end of your life; she said, actually, it's the first day of your life. Because now you know how to move forward. Now you have the information that you need -- if you're negative, to continue to use condoms, safer sex practices, things like that. And if you're positive, now you know to see a doctor, get treatment. I thought that was really profound. If that was one of the messages that people heard, I wonder: Would it shape their desire to get tested?
And that's something that I think we need, as a community. We need those testimonies from people who did find out that they're infected, and how they are, and their families are, affected by it. We need some positive people saying it's not a death sentence. But, on the other hand, I want people to be reminded that I have got to take pills every day; I've got to do this every day. You know, there are things that I cannot do in order to live my life to the fullest and help you live your life to the fullest. Let's be honest about this, and let's have a dialogue about this.
But, you know, I'm a good person, and I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face, and a song in my heart. And life goes on, doesn't it?
How have people, some of your clients, responded to some of the other programs that you've had? Because I know that, a lot of times, gay youth, they don't have positive role models, or older peers that they can kind of talk to. I feel like our LGBT youth are just kind of thrown out there and told, "Good luck."
We'll talk about the transgender program first. The fact that we have Anastasia working with us is just such a positive thing. She's not the first trans to work for us, and she's certainly not window dressing -- although she does sit at the front desk, because she is the prettiest thing here. Her personality has helped that program a whole, whole lot.
She's very, very shy. And she used to come here just to make condom kits for us. And she would march with us in the gay parade and things like that. She actually applied for a position that I hired somebody else for.
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