Bob Leahy: Let’s talk about the RiseUptoHIV campaign which you are well known for, particularly for your T-shirts.
Kevin Maloney: Yes, it was a two-pronged campaign. The name “RiseUptoHIV” came to me in the middle of the night. I was thinking about how I was rising up to the challenges in my life at the time when I was diagnosed in 2010. The “No shame about being HIV-positive” story telling campaign started in 2013 – people would send me their stories and photos, which I would post to the RiseUpToHIV Facebook page. In 2014 I rolled out the t-shirt campaign. On the front it says “No shame about being HIV-positive”. The idea was that people would wear their t-shirts and share their photos in them. That went really well. I’ve sent out over 700 T-shirts.
And I happen to know that’s been a very successful Facebook page in terms of traffic.
I put a lot of hard work into making sure the message gets out there and pride myself on that. I do all this from my bedroom with no outside funding. In 2015 there were 174,000 engaged users.
I wore one of your shirts in Durban for AIDS2016 and rounded up a couple of others for a photo op, remember?
Yes, there were four people with them. Three countries we’re represented. It made my day.
It was an interesting experience wearing that T-shirt with that message in downtown Durban. You’re in public and you’re telling everybody that you are HIV-positive. That’s not only a big deal, but it feels like a big deal at the time.
Yes, it’s telling people “I’m not ashamed, I am unafraid and i won't be silenced”. And I’m sure it strikes up an awareness in the wearer asking themselves “how am I going to be perceived wearing this? David Duran wrote an excellent piece for TheBody.com about wearing one of the t-shirts around New York City
Yes. I looked it up. Here’s what he said:
“Stepping outside after exiting the subway, I found myself walking in a straight line, not making eye contact with anyone. What I felt was beyond paranoia, as if everyone was looking at me. When I eventually did glance up and locked eyes with a stranger walking toward me, I noticed her read the T-shirt and then quickly look at me and just as quickly look away. Ok, I had done it. It was exhilarating -- as funny as that might sound. I continued to walk and experience the reactions from people I would possibly never see again. It was rather liberating.”
It is an empowering message. I’ve worn it myself and I received no negative reactions. I was met with love and understanding instead. I want to say too that this is a grassroots campaign. This is a campaign where I want to reach that person sitting in a rural county in Tennessee or a small town in upstate New York who may be sitting there alone and afraid, just diagnosed. I’m from a small town and I think to myself “where would I go” and the only place would be online. Most likely direct to Facebook.
So your intended audience is for people living with HIV rather than the general public?
Everyone. Everywhere. The World Health Organization says that stigma is the reason why people are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status and take antiretroviral drugs. This campaign has a global reach. It’s putting a face and a voice to HIV.
What about internalized stigma?
Yes, that’s huge and this is a multi-pronged approach to all of this. It’s for people who say “I’ve been sitting here in silence. I’ve been sitting here in shame and I’ve been sitting here afraid. Now I feel empowered to take that HIV test or talk to my partner . . .”
Right, stigma is out there and has been since the early days of the epidemic. Do you have a sense that we are making any headway in reducing it? I mean we now know that people who are undetectable are not infectious. In theory we should be beating this.
I think we are making headway. But really the only way to combat HIV stigma is for people to stand out and speak up and by telling their stories unafraid and unashamed saying “this is me, I’m more than HIV, I’m living with a manageable chronic health condition. You can hug me, you can love me, you can drink from the same glass as me, you can have sex with me and you are not going to get HIV.”
In August 2016 Kevin launched a new video campaign; here is what his press release said. .
“RiseUpToHIV, a grassroots awareness project that created the viral, groundbreaking "No Shame About Being HIV+" campaign in 2013, has launched its "My Positive Message" video campaign. This campaign is calling for short video submissions with the goal of reaching 1 million combined video views by World AIDS Day on December 1, 2016.
The "My Positive Message" campaign is calling for 1-minute personal messages of love, hope, strength and wisdom about people's experiences living with or affected by HIV in order to encourage, educate and empower others... Check out the current submissions at www.facebook.com/RiseUpToHIV/videos.
The 'My Positive Message' campaign harnesses the combined power of video and social media to tear down the walls of stigma, fear and shame," says Kevin Maloney, HIV and Hepatitis C awareness advocate and the creator of RiseUpToHIV. "We are committed to showing the world we are courageous, strong, vibrant and thriving with HIV."
My goal is one million views by World AIDS Day and I’m going to push and push and do whatever it takes to get to that. It's important to get these messages out there in front of the world. For every like, comment, share, and view, someone, somewhere is learning about HIV. We’re helping eliminate the stigma.
I know. I’m curious about you Kevin. You are obviously very passionate. What drives you to do this work?
I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world. It was instilled in me as a child. I grew up in a verbally abusive household. I was always hyper-aware of avoiding conflict, I was told I was not going to amount to much, people just found me an easy target. But the bullying stopped at the age of 15 and I ended up working two jobs and that gave me money to travel the world. That was proving a point that I was someone, I was going to be someone. I think I’m driven by those early experiences. Now, when I pour myself into a project I go full on. Failure is not an option.
We’ve talked about this before Kevin, you and me. So you won’t mind me saying you aren’t really typical of advocates, people who lead these kinds of big campaigns. You are a little bit shy. You don’t crave the spotlight.
I don’t. RiseUptoHIV is not about me. It’s about other people who want to share their stories.
I know you, Kevin and I know you hate public speaking and you would hate to be a public front-man. You probably hate doing this interview. (Kevin laughs.) We have many campaigns that are personality focused but I suspect many people don’t know much about Kevin Maloney.
No I don’t think they do. I’m 38. I’m introverted but I’m highly driven and creative. I’m someone with a million and one ideas. I come from a simple upbringing from a small country town in Upstate New York. Now I live near Columbus, Ohio. I’m an American Express Corporate Travel Consultant working from home.
So what is the message that your own video tells the world?
Well I can play it for you. (plays video)
Kevin I’m glad we have had this chance to speak and learn more about you. Thank you for talking to PositiveLite.com – and good luck with the campaign.
Video Submission Instructions
•Record on mobile phone, laptop/desktop computer or camera.
•Keep your video 1 minute in length.
•Record in a bright space, natural light is best.
•Be honest, encouraging, uplifting and positive in tone.
•Message your video to the RiseUpToHIV Facebook page www.facebook.com/RiseUpToHIV, preferred.
Check out the current submissions at www.facebook.com/RiseUpToHIV/videos