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National HIVAnonymous Campaign a contradiction in terms

Monday, 17 August 2015 Categories // Activism, Current Affairs, Living with HIV, Media, Opinion Pieces

New writer Steven Hobé from Toronto says Canada’s latest stigma-fighting campaign “HIVAnonymous” is sending the wrong message

National HIVAnonymous Campaign a contradiction in terms

From the HIVAnonymous website: 

'Here at HIVANONYMOUS, we want to encourage those living with HIV and AIDS to share your experiences with the world in a way that lets you keep your identity and HIV status as private as you are comfortable with.

We invite you to talk about, in your own words, how stigma and discrimination have affected your life. Your stories will help educate others about the realities of living with HIV and AIDS, and open a discussion about the effects of discrimination and the need for more support of the HIV/AIDS community in Canada."


Spearheaded by the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS), the ad firm TBWA, recently launched its HIVAnonymous Campaign across Canada – the intention being to address the stigma and shame associated with being HIV-positive, and encourage individuals to speak out and tell their stories. 

I was co-diagnosed six years ago with Hepatitis C and HIV. Under the Hep C Interferon treatment, I was relegated to my home for over a year. I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment at that time, but suffered in silence – we lost friends, I lost my job, and my world was turned upside down. Since then, it’s been a slow but steady road to mental and physical recovery. 

In June, I was asked by the campaign to tell my story in-studio. It was a forty five minute interview, with many angles being covered. Being in the field of marketing myself, I understand the importance of messaging, and so I tried to give them as much usable content as possible, knowing that it would need to be cut together into one to two minutes. 

My intention in participating was to share and inspire others to come forward. I didn’t want other people to make the same choices that I made. If I could help in some small way, then it would all be worthwhile. 

Recently I was informed that my interview would not be used, and that “the content was not appropriate for the campaign”. I guess if I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have known. 

From where I sit, this is a campaign about addressing “shame” and encouraging people to tell their stories. Therefore, I am a little confused as to why the ad company would filter out what it deems to be inappropriate content. 

Is this not a paradox – one that contradicts the very nature of the campaign itself? And how many other stories are not being told, due to the misunderstanding and evident bias of the ad firm? 

I believe this is really not how we should be approaching the issue, and engagement of HIV people, especially given the sensitive nature of the topic. All should be heard – loud and clear!  

About the writer: Steven was co-diagnosed with Hepatitis C and HIV in 2009. He went through the harrowing Interferon treatment for the Hep C in 2010 — a dark period in his life, to be sure — but was cured as a result. He now believes strongly in speaking openly about his experiences, both past and present, in the hopes to inspire others not to suffer in silence, as he once did.

Much of Steven's time is spent running his marketing & communications firm, HOBÉ+HOSOKAWA INC., alongside his life-partner. When time allows, he avidly studies contemporary classical music composition and analysis, as well as Japanese. Continued learning and growth have become a passion for him. Surrounded by three black cats, Steven can freely dabble in the dark arts, finding great solace and inspiration in his furry friends.

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