Fighting Stigma with Flair

Published: August 27, 2012

Bob Leahy interviews Chris Richey and Scott McPherson, the inventive minds behind The Stigma Project, an LA based series of campaigns using bold graphics and innovative messaging designed to boldly attack HIV stigma everywhere Bob Leahy: Guys, thank you for talking to  I want to fess up right away and tell you that I’m a big admirer of your current campaign.  I love the messages and I love the artwork.  It’s all very creative.  We’ll get to that bit in a minute, but let’s find out about you two.  Chris, I think you founded The Stigma Project with Scott, right?  Tell us why you did it.
Chris Richey: Well it sort of began as an extension of my own personal journey with HIV. Before being diagnosed, I thought of myself as a pretty progressive and accepting person when it came to my views on people who were HIV-Positive. In fact, one of my closest friends whom at one point in time I even lived with was positive. Needless to say, I thought I knew all there was to know about it. It wasn’t until my own diagnosis that I realized that I actually had a lot of internalized stigma. But more than that, there were so many things I had never heard of in regards to HIV. I didn’t know what "undetectable" was and I always referred to myself as "clean" when talking about my status. I actually remember thinking that if I was ever diagnosed I would be able to cope relatively easily because my friend had coped — from what I could tell — pretty well.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. When diagnosed I witnessed stigma first hand. Whether it be friends of mine at a party making offensive comments about someone else’s status meanwhile not knowing mine, or instances in which I was personally rejected or discriminated against. These experiences only intensified the shame I was feeling and I began to hate myself so much, I actually tried to end my life. After this happened, my friends quickly helped me realize that I wasn’t the problem. Ignorance is the problem. Fear is the problem. Misinformation is the problem. So in February of this year, Scott and I were discussing how stigmatized gay men specifically can be. Then we realized it’s not just the gay community. It’s present in all communities around the world. Regardless of who they sleep with, the color of their skin, or even their HIV status. So with Scott having a background in design, and my own background in marketing as well as nonprofit and political fundraising, we put our heads together and decided that maybe there was something we could do together, to change things. So began our late nights of Photoshopping, brainstorming, researching and strategizing that gave birth to the organization.

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