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Dec01

Five years old today

Monday, 01 December 2014 Written by // Bob Leahy - Editor Categories // Social Media, Activism, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Bob Leahy

December 1 2014 marks PositiveLite.com’s five year anniversary. Editor Bob Leahy, who has been with the site from the beginning, looks back at its genesis and its history since.

Five years old today

From the archives:

Press Release: PositiveLite.Com, A webzine for HIV positve gay men launches Dec. 1st, 2009 (Editor: note the typo)  

 For Immediate Release (November 30, 2009)

This World AIDS Day – December 1, 2009 – a brand new positive spin on HIV/AIDS is set to “Go viral” with the launch of PositiveLite.com, an e-magazine for HIV positive gay men and their friends. PositiveLite.com is the brainchild of Brandon Williams and Brian Finch who are both ‘out’, long term surviving HIV positive men living in Toronto. They’ve teamed up to combine their coaching, writing, social marketing skills – and not to mention sense of humour – to create a multimedia e-magazine for HIV positive gay men and their friends.

******

The “launch” was in fact a soft one, with Brian and Brandon tinkering with the newborn for weeks earlier. (Our earliest surviving post is in fact this one from Philip Minaker dated November 4 2009. Whether it is the actual first is difficult to determine as our early archives are incomplete.)

The site was originally built on a wing and a prayer, with Brandon doing the legwork, rather shakily then as it happens, but commendable for one with no experience, on Joomla open-access software. The site was strengthened and redesigned within the year, to more or less as it appears now, by  a professional hired by Brian, Brandon having left the site shortly after implementation, due to reasons that no longer matter.

It’s interesting that the press release said that our target audience was "poz gay men". I don’t remember that was ever exclusively our focus but that was clearly the original intent. In any event our focus very quickly moved to all people living with HIV and that has remained unchanged.  Practically speaking, though, service providers have increasingly become important to us as a key audience segment. And of course, Canada now only represents a portion, although a very significant one, of our worldwide readership.

The early content was all over the place. There was never anything approaching heavy reading; Brian wanted to keep it light and funny and it was. Lots of fluff to pad out the HIV, you could say. But Brian had, rather smartly, recruited a roster of people living with HIV with very varied experiences but who liked to write about them, the list mostly drawn from his personal contacts. That list included yours truly, who had worked with him as a blogger on Ontario’s HIV Stigma project. (We’re still up there for those who are curious.)

“PositiveLite.com is designed to deliver a positive (no pun intended) message about ‘getting on with life’ in the post-cocktail era,” says Brian. “It asks the existential question: We’re still here, now what?” 2009 Press Release. 

Early writers? Many of them have fallen by the wayside, replaced by others with more stamina and things to say who wanted a voice on the site. Here are four that survive on the site today (together with how the press release described each of them then).

 Brian Finch, writer, humorist, advocate, Toronto

 Ken Monteith, recovering lawyer, Montreal

 Phillip Minaker, style guru, Toronto

Bob Leahy, wisdom and rural life, Southern Ontario

Brian led the site almost single-handedly for the first two years until I became editor, and took charge of all content-related issues. John McCullagh took over from Brain as publisher after Brian decided he liked writing, but the business end of writing and publishing not so much. After that we incorporated, started filing taxes, bringing more advertisers on stream, developing social media platforms like twitter and Facebook, and forging relationships that we value to this day, like for instance with CATIE and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN).

During this time of evolution of the PositiveLite.com "brand", we became ever more “respectable, injecting ourselves not only into knowledge exchange but in to issues like the debate about risk of transmission and the place of new prevention technologies. We also became active in the critical analysis of the nationwide response to HIV. We became watch dogs, colleagues and friends of those working in the sector, all in one. We impressed some and received awards for our work, but made others nervous. Such is life.

Our most popular post ever embraced the F-word in its title. 

It’s hard to write about this history, though, without seeming to be egocentric, but as people living with HIV, we here at PositiveLite.com are proud of what we do and what we have become. As a website that is financially stable and self-sufficient, while able to provide a rare and unflinching independent voice, we like to think we epitomize what a belief in GIPA/MIPA can do.  In short, what Brian started five years ago with lots of (unpaid) hard work from many along the way arguably has influenced what the community we serve knows about HIV, how we live it and how we make sense of it.

This of course has been a group effort through and through. Particular kudos though must go to all our writers for believing the vision and giving so much of themselves. Kudos too to tens of thousands of our readers for sticking with us through thick and thin. Thank you all.

Happy Birthday, PositiveLite.com!

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