Handsome Randy Davis can give you a lot of things. He can give you heat, intensity, and versatility. What he can’t give you is HIV. And he wants you to know that.
Davis, a.k.a. “The Accidental HIV Activist,” is the creator of the “I Can Give U” campaign currently exploding on social media. “I Can Give U” is an anti-stigma, pro-U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) campaign, and although it’s only been running for the past couple of months, it has taken off on social media. “It’s taken me by surprise, the response I have had!” Davis beamed. “I know it sounds corny, but I literally dreamt this campaign up in my head about 18 months ago.”
The campaign features portrait memes of people who are living healthfully with HIV. Each image includes three affirming words (chosen by the subject) starting with the letters H, I, and V, to name upbeat gifts that a person living with HIV can offer the loved ones in their lives and the community. That same person, because of successful treatment for HIV and an undetectable viral load, cannot transmit HIV sexually. These inspiring memes can be found all over social media, specifically on Davis’ The Accidental HIV Activist pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Joe CAN give you so much; but Joe CAN’T GIVE U HIV!
#UequalsU #ICantGiveUHIV #ScienceNotStigma #FactsNotFear
The idea stemmed from Davis and his partner’s experience being in Canada’s “Can’t Pass It On” campaign. “Can’t Pass It On” featured serodiscordant couples who don’t have to worry about passing HIV to each other, because the partner living with HIV has an undetectable viral load.
“It was a brilliant campaign, and I was really glad to be a part of it,” Davis said. “But I really don’t want to focus on all the things I can’t give. Yeah, I can’t give you HIV [because of successful treatment], and that’s a great thing, and it’s a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. But at the same time, I didn’t want to minimize all the amazing things that folks like us living with HIV can give the world.”
Davis continued, “As corny as this sounds, too, HIV has given me so much.” Davis says his life has turned around 360 degrees since his diagnosis a little over five years ago. He had been in a few terrible relationships and was living paycheck to paycheck, staying in a friend’s basement. “I looked at my diagnosis as an opportunity to make a change and do something better with my life.” Davis is the gay men’s sexual health coordinator at Gilbert Centre in Ontario, a board member at the Ontario AIDS Network, as well as the host and producer of “Let’s Be Perfectly Queer with Randy Davis,” a local television and YouTube talk show that explores LGBTQ+ topics. And he is now the sole creator of a runaway social-media campaign.
After he thought up the initial idea for “I Can Give U,” he offered it to several HIV organizations. He first showed it to the Canadian AIDS Society for National HIV Testing Day promotion, and although they loved the idea, they decided not to use it. Then Bruce Richman from the Prevention Access Campaign thought it would work well in the U.S., but the timing wasn’t right. “I also do some work with [a major pharmaceutical company], and so I sent it to them.” Their response? “Crickets!” Davis said.
Life went on, and Davis put the concept on the back burner—until July of this year, when he thought, why not do it myself? “The first image was of myself,” Davis said, “as kind of a tester to see what it would be like. I liked it, so I just posted it [on social media]. When I put it out, everyone started asking, ‘Where can I get that frame?’” People started sending Davis a photo and three words starting with H, I, and V, and he makes the original memes up himself.
“It just snowballed from there!” Davis said. He’s had over 100 submissions from around the country and around the world. “I just got an email from someone in Germany who wants to translate the campaign into German, like Phillipe [Heme] translated it and started doing it in France,” Davis explained. “I had someone from Armenia contact me and make up their own version!” The campaign is also set to be translated into Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.
Davis is happy to continue making the memes but insists that they stay PG-rated. “There are a few folks who’ve contacted me wanting to make some racy ones, and I get it, and it would be fun, but I think it would take away from the bigger message.” Although he admits that that could change. “Well not yet, anyway,” he grinned. “That could change. I’m very sex-positive!”
Folks wishing to participate in the “I CAN GIVE U” campaign are asked to submit a photo and three words starting with H, I, and V that describe what they CAN give to our world by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.