New York City's New HIV Awareness Campaign Shows Intimacy in the Age of HIV

Heather Boerner
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Jasmine Corazon, 37, entered the subway recently and noticed something new. It was an image of a Latino man cozying up to his girlfriend (or wife) from behind, hand on her upper arm and coming in for a nuzzle. Below the intimate image was the encouragement: "Be HIV Sure." And then the direction: "Be safe, be sure, and get tested frequently."

It’s a far cry from the images related to HIV she’s used to seeing in the subway: the wan, skeletal gay men, often white, meant to provide living proof of the ravages of the virus. Or, conversely, the hyper athletic he-men, brimming with health and meant to be a counterpoint to the stereotype. But nowhere were there images of the people she saw every day affected by HIV: straight, gay, of all races, living, loving and carrying on regular lives as people with HIV alongside the people who love them.

"These are normal-looking people," said Corazon — not her real name, since her husband isn’t out about having HIV — of the ads. "It’s a huge step in the right direction."

Not looking like they are ill or sad or afraid is the whole point — and so is the intimation of intimacy and sex. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched the Be HIV Sure campaign on World AIDS Day in December 2014, as a new take on the old message: Get tested, get treatment, take precautions. But this time, it’s without the layer of fear-mongering or sex-shaming that often accompanies such campaigns.

"When we designed this campaign, it was really important that we didn’t stigmatize in any direction — whether you are living with HIV or at risk of HIV," said Demetre Daskalakis, M.D., an infectious disease doctor who leads the city’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control. "And we want people to find what it means for them to be sure. HIV is such a personalized disease state. The care is personalized. The message should be, too."

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