On Thursday, 29 November, COCQ-SIDA (the Québec coalition of AIDS organizations) and its member groups held press conferences in Québec City, Trois Rivières, Montréal and Gatineau to launch a new campaign attacking the stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Two previous campaigns, adapted from campaigns from the French organization AIDES, had recruited celebrities to encourage the population to reflect on whether the things they take for granted in their lives would still be there if they were seropositive. Thousands of Quebeckers joined the campaign through a Facebook application that made it possible for them to make their own posters with their images and their own reflective statements. Last year's campaign was covered here.
This year the focus shifted slightly, turning the spotlight on five Quebeckers living with HIV, talking about their lives not only in terms of HIV, but also highlighting the work they do, their leisure-time activities and the things they enjoy in life.
We get to learn that Bruno, very involved in the student strike this year by organizing a conference on the history of the student movement and participating in the "Pink Bloc" of LGBT activists, has committed to his studies for the next six years to obtain his doctorate - and makes excellent desserts.
Jacques, who thought he was going to die, has committed himself to working with and for people living with HIV, shares his experiences and knowledge of HIV with people from many age groups and backgrounds through testimonials and is looking forward to watching his grandchildren and even his great grandchildren grow up.
Donald once worked in a government job, but was made to feel unwelcome to return to it after an absence of two years. He enjoys the good things in life: travel, food, humour and — he says with an obvious twinkle in his eye — even a good wine.
Emelyne works in prevention of substance abuse with youth and takes good care of her health so that illness won't interfere with her work or with her pursuit of her many dreams for the future. She has always been committed to destigmatizing HIV, in Canada and in her country of origin.
Yves lost his vision to an opportunistic infection, but he tells us that he is not blind to the rest of the world. He listens to two books a week, is committed to HIV/AIDS work at a national and a local level and has celebrated his 21st anniversary with his seronegative husband.
All of these spokespeople are contributing to the fight against HIV stigma by being themselves, only a little more publicly this time around. You can see their differences, but you can see in each their love of life and their commitment to making society a better place, with respect to HIV, yes, but in many other ways too. The approach of this campaign is to show some real faces, to show the humanity and the diversity of people living with HIV so as to sweep away the caricatures and the fear. These — and many others — are people who have something to contribute to our society and all of society loses when we exclude them.
The campaign is once again using classic paper-based materials like posters, print ads and bookmarks, but is also making extensive use of social media, with YouTube videos, a blog dedicated to the campaign and the issues of HIV stigma and the COCQ-SIDA Facebook page. The launch was very well received and covered by the media all over Québec.
The overarching message is clear and simple. HIV/AIDS is the problem, not the people living with it.