Faces of HIV Launches in Florida

With cities such as Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., having some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the U.S., the Florida Health Department (FHD) is making clear that the growing epidemic in its state is a high priority. To raise awareness and educate Floridians, the FHD recently launched Faces of HIV, a new HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. Instead of going the typical route of television PSAs and bus ads, though, Faces of HIV is a multifaceted campaign that not only utilizes the Web and social media, but has a traveling art exhibit component that consists of photos and written daily journals that convey the real life stories of people living with HIV.

Thomas Liberti, chief of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS for the Florida Department of Health, told TheBody.com that the goal of this campaign is to help bring the epidemic back into the open. "Hopefully [Faces of HIV] will encourage that person who's been thinking about getting tested to get tested, or the person who is positive to get back into the doctor's office and seek care," Liberti said.

Dab Garner, the founder of the Dab the AIDS Bear Project, shared his own life story for the campaign. Garner, a native Floridian who has been living with HIV for 30 years, is most pleased with the diversity of the campaign, and believes that it will help reduce stigma. "There are [white] women, gay men and women [of color] who are putting out the message that it doesn't matter who you are," he said. "This disease can impact anyone."

Garner also hopes that his story of survival will inspire other people living with HIV/AIDS who may have lost hope: "As a long-time survivor, I want for other people living with HIV/AIDS to see my story and know that they can live with this disease."

Responses via social media and from the first stops in Tallahassee on Jan. 13 and 14 have been positive. "People left the truck telling us that the photos and personal stories really woke them up," Liberti said. Garner echoes that view: "Since the videos have gone on YouTube and then on MySpace and Facebook, there has been a lot of heartwarming comments of people sharing their own stories of living with HIV/AIDS, having HIV-positive loved ones, or how the videos have made people rethink their own behaviors."

The next stop for Faces of HIV is Orlando, at the University of Central Florida on Feb. 3 and downtown at Lake Eola on Feb. 4, with future cities including Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville. And while the majority of the cities on the tour schedule are large, Liberti hopes showings will expand to smaller cities.

"Midsized cities such as Gainesville, Fort Myers and Fort Peters may be smaller than cities such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but their HIV stats are not small," he said. "Bringing Faces of HIV to these places to talk about the epidemic would be powerful."

Watch the Faces of HIV trailer here.

Watch Dab's video:

Read his journal.

Watch Kamaria's story:

Read her journal.

Watch Joey's story:

Read his journal.

Watch Tracey's story:

Read her journal.

For details and upcoming dates for Faces of HIV and for more stories and journals, please visit wemakethechange.com.

Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.