*published on 21 Feb 2012 in The EDGE
Gay Men’s Health Crisis on Valentine’s Day unveiled a new public awareness campaign designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among young men of color.
The “Kiss and Tell” campaign features a series of photographs of young gay and bisexual men of color talking honestly about the value, benefits and strength derived from open discussion with their friends and partners about the virus. Fashion photographer Mike Ruiz, who was on The A-List, shot the images that the campaign features.
He knows the challenges that these young men face intimately.
“I moved to [New York City] from Montreal as a teenager and I had no direction or guidance and I learned things the very hard way,” Ruiz told EDGE. “I finally got on track and created a reality for myself; I want to share that with the younger generation.”
He said the campaign empowers young black and Latino men who have sex with men.
“We want to take away the stigma,” said Ruiz. “We want to encourage the conversations and not brush things under the carpet. That will perpetuate the epidemic.”
An estimated 1.2 million Americans live with HIV/AIDS. And while epidemiologists note that the epidemic has stabilized in the United States in recent years, it continues to disproportionately impact young people of color.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data shows that the rate of new infections among black MSM between the ages of 13-29 increased an alarming 48 percent between 2006 and 2009. Given this steady increase, GMHC created CLUB1319 to reach out to MSM of color between the ages of 13-19. The group meets on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 4 – 8:30 p.m. It offers a variety of community forums, workshops, health fairs and other events every three months.
The “Kiss and Tell” campaign came about through a series of CLUB1319 community meetings.
“The young men were reacting with humor to the Army’s ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” said GMHC spokesperson Krishna Stone. “They wanted the opposite, open honesty.”
GMHC CEO Dr. Marjorie Hill feels that some of the most valuable learning opportunities emanate from what she described as “organic campaigns” that come from “the experiences of the target audience.”
“We are looking for many innovative ways to remove some of the stigma in the black and Hispanic community surrounding sex, homosexual liaisons and HIV/AIDS,” said Hill. “”Kiss and Tell” is a testing, prevention and educational campaign that encourages partners to discuss their sexual history and HIV status.”
She added that the campaign also allows GMHC to be even more visible to the community.
“Yes we embrace and serve people living with HIV/AIDS, but we also want to prevent the disease,” she said. “We are concerned with people who are not yet infected, and we would like to reach those people via a positive and sexy message. That is the “Kiss and Tell” campaign.”
Log onto www.club1319.org for more information.