From time to time, the Staying Negative campaign has received criticism for excluding HIV positive men, and in extreme cases, stigmatising them. Although this criticism is infrequent, it is not insignificant. Let me start by saying that the purpose of the Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Men’s Health Centre, as set out in our recent strategic plan, is to reduce HIV transmissions in Victoria by promoting the health of gay men and of people living with HIV.
It has been identified by me that the key concern of some is around the title ‘Staying Negative’. The dominant criticism of the name is essentially that it ascribes a positive value to staying negative. So why did we call it Staying Negative?
Well, the basic premise is that yes, there is a positive value to being HIV free, in the same way that there is a positive value to being free of any STI, or any other infection for that matter. Being an HIV prevention campaign, it is important to focus on the fact that the campaign aims to prevent the spread of HIV. Therefore the name Staying Negative was coined to capture what is essentially the end goal of the campaign – to help HIV negative men stay HIV negative.
However it would be a mistake to suggest that simply because the aim of the campaign is to encourage HIV negative men to stay negative, that HIV positive men have somehow failed. The strength of the campaign, being real narratives from members of the community (both positive and negative), is that it highlights the complexity around HIV transmission. To infer that someone’s HIV status is a failure on their part is highly flawed and not a perspective supported by the campaign or VAC/GMHC.
The campaign simply aims to capture real life stories from men within the community who are openly willing to talk about their lives and their strategies to maintaining their sexual health. There are HIV positive men who talk about how they contracted HIV from a trusted partner, and there are HIV negative men who discuss their ongoing risky sexual behaviour. The purpose is not about placing blame, but about understanding the context of what goes on in people’s lives to help everyone make better health decisions overall.
This is why the name Staying Negative was used for the campaign, because it accurately frames what the campaign is about. However, to address the concerns that have been raised, our most recent campaign evaluation will ask specific questions about the name. In this way we hope to identify how much of an issue the name is and how we can address those concerns better.
Ilan Werbeloff www.vicaids.asn.au