Speechless… That was my first reaction when I glanced down at my laptop screen and saw the following comment appear on my Twitter feed.
It was in response to a photo I had posted in support of The Bow Tie Movement Campaign; a grassroots initiative seeking to raise awareness for heterosexual HIV-positive men. The words that first caught my attention were "knife" and "neck". Was this someone reaching out for help or yet another stigmatizing comment from someone looking to put others living with HIV down? Then I looked further and what I found shocked me.
This tweet was published not only by another heterosexual HIV advocate, but also one well-known to the public eye. Dick Donato also known as @EvelDick, a reality TV star that appeared on Big Brother and Couples Therapy, shared his two cents on what he thought of the campaign in a series of tweets.
I won’t sugar coat it, his responses upset me. But more than the anger was a feeling of disappointment. As advocates people who follow our lives look up to us. We are being watched constantly and our words have a profound impact, whether we know it or not. I’m a believer in the age-old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.
If the man isn’t a fan of bow ties. Ok, I get it. But to put down a campaign that’s focus is to eliminate stigma by tweeting out stuff like this, makes me feel like we have taken ten steps back in the progress we’ve made to date.
"Heterosexual men face an enormous amount of stigma and often stay in the closet due to this stigma. We expect it from the outside world that is uneducated and ignorant to our struggle but not from one of our very own."
To begin with, the idea of using a comparison of self harm to wearing a bow tie is just not right. Call me hyper-sensitive or say that I am overreacting but as someone who also advocates for mental health awareness, it’s just not appropriate. There is nothing humorous about it. I’ve written in detail about the mental health crisis we are in as seen in some of my previous blogs here and incidences like this don’t help the situation.
The conversation then began to shift…
I learned early on in advocacy that it’s important to stay focused on one thing, why I wanted to share my story to begin with. Sure, it’s great to know that what I’m doing truly is accomplishing my mission by helping others. But it doesn’t mean that because I haven’t reached 133,000 people, that indicates what I am doing is worthless. What kind of message is that sending? That numbers are what are important? These are people’s lives we are talking about here.
Whether it’s one or one hundred thousand lives, a blog viewed by a couple hundred a month or a show viewed by millions, we all can play a part in this fight. Let’s not put each other down but rather build each other up. This isn’t a competition and the minute that it becomes one it is time we take a serious step back to analyze the situation.
A key component of being an advocate is being humble. While I commend Dick for the work he has done in HIV advocacy, I believe he dropped the ball on this one. Heterosexual men face an enormous amount of stigma and often stay in the closet due to this stigma. We expect it from the outside world that is uneducated and ignorant to our struggle but not from one of our very own.
If I was just starting into advocacy or thinking about speaking out about my status, this would have deterred me. A heterosexual male is going to look at this and say “Whoah, if that’s the reaction in the HIV community, how will others react?”
The whole point of this campaign isn’t about bow ties. It’s about saving people’s lives! I am so thankful for the love and support I have received from fellow advocates, friends, and family. I truly do wish Dick the best and hope that this will serve as a learning experience that we can all grow from.
Advocacy isn’t about reality TV but rather real life. Lets put an end to the drama and focus on ending the trauma induced by the stigma that has followed this virus for decades. Whether you are straight or gay, like to wear bow ties or would never be caught in public wearing one. Let us never lose focus; reaching zero and an HIV/AID’s free generation.
This article by Joshua Middleton previously appeared on his own blog, PozitiveHope, here.