December 1st is World AIDS Day. For me it marks something even more personal - the anniversary of the launch of PositiveLite.com. Our tag line? "PositiveLite.com Goes Viral on Dec 1st 2009".
In some ways it feels like the site has been around longer than four years, due to its rapid growth, all the while growing roots that have firmly taken in the community.
The idea for the website came to me from a couple of directions. One was that I had been doing a lot of volunteer work, mostly on the treatment advocacy and policy fronts, and it just wasn’t doing it for me. I had been involved in the movement since the 80s in Winnipeg. I do have a history of creating things such as the group Body Positive that only lasted a few years after I left for Toronto.
I come from the era of “If it isn’t there, them create it.” Running up to 2009, I saw a few things that were missing. The first was a public reflection of my life where I was not solely defined by HIV. I do lots of other things too. Why can’t I be a person first?
Additionally I wanted to lighten things up. We already have apps to graph and obsess over our blood values, and I thought, “Oh my god, is this what life is reduced to?” After nearly 30 years of blood tests I couldn’t care less. Why couldn’t I be entertained? Why can’t I explore my hobbies and interests?
Canada also did not have a national and responsive platform to bring together the voices of people living with HIV online. We were missing a great opportunity for people to connect from all parts of the country, and from the world for that matter.
I felt other websites were too heavy. Hence I chose the introductory slogan "PositiveLite.com: Same Flavour, Less Calories" as a way to say that we can have some levity, humour, and connect as people. The name has stayed but not the slogan. Some questioned the use of “Lite” as it can be confused with “light.” I had struggled a long time with the name. The first one was “Poz Lite” but I knew that the ever-so-territorial POZ Magazine would be firing off a letter to me.
I did get a couple of thousand dollars from a drug company to help kick start the website. After that, there was absolutely no financial help. Often people think this site gets government funding, like many HIV sites. Nope! When we started, I was shelling out a lot of money on it. I looked at it as an investment in myself and others. The final tally though was well over $10,000.
The only reason I’m including this is becauseI I want people to know what the commitment was, and how we had absolutely no institutional help to make this website into the success it is today. It has been a lot of blood, sweat and a few tears to get this project to where it is today.
Bob Leahy was a writer from day one and soon stepped up to help with posting, and most likely motivated my writing, and he did not take long to become the editor. The site kept on growing and growing beyond any of our expectations. We had zero marketing dollars and capitalized on social media as much as we could, and constantly updating content.
Soon it was time to turn this site into a corporation to take personal liability away from myself and take it to the next level. I burned out after two years in charge, and in hindsight, the ups and downs of my health would have prohibited me from continuing at the very hectic pace of those early days, doing a bit of everything.
One of our success stories is in the form of John McCullagh, who contacted us to give us some rather nice feedback on the site. Soon we had John writing under a different name about seroconverting as an older gay man. (We tend to focus on “youth” a lot, however there is an entire demographic being left out. )
Not long after John found the courage to become public and quite involved. PositiveLite.com was his place to grow. When I felt I had reached a point where I needed to refocus, John took over the publisher’s role. Wayne Bristow then joined the team to work on the social media aspect (a nearly full time job at times) as the Social Media Coordinator, completing the team of three people living with HIV who put major hours in to the site daily, all on a volunteer basis.
This is what makes me the most proud. PositiveLite.com continues because it is needed, and everyone, including the writers whom I’ve yet to mention, have worked hard and believe in what we are doing,.
I continue to write, and I hope at some point after a long enough break I can dive back more into it. Even though I wanted to leave HIV behind, I can’t seem to - it is a part of me.
As an extension of PositiveLite.com, I’m now taking anti-stigma to untraditional places like the comedy and performing world and its audiences. I do not talk about HIV all the time, I’m simply being authentic in situations that would have used to scare me.
PositiveLite.com’s networking and partnerships have continued to expand, notably with the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) with whom we are jointly undertaking a quit smoking initiative, but with many others also. Through the support of advertisers, we now have a small revenue flow. We pay our bills on time, are fiscally responsible and will have money in the bank for the next round of major site improvements.
It was very exciting to see that The Grid TO listed the foundation of PositiveLite.com as a a marker in the timeline of HIV in Canada, when there are so many to chose from. Then shortly after, Healthline.com gave PositiveLite.com the title of "Best Canadian-Focused Website" as part of their HIV Influencers Honours.
I think everyone at Positivelite.com, the little website that could, should be very proud that we just reached our four-year mark and are being recognized, from within and outside out own community.
When a comic comes up to me and says “Hey I see you were in The Grid TO” that is cool. It is doubly cool because some straight guy who’s never had anything to with the subject now knows somebody with HIV.
This is the way of the future. We have to be out there and in mainstream society. PositiveLite.com has provided an opportunity to do just that.
To wrap up, a super huge congratulations to everyone who continues to work so hard on this website. This is a team project and couldn’t be done if it weren’t the product of a collective working on a common goal. It’s just going to get better and better, I know it.