This blog will cover my interest in the Leather, Bear and other gay related communities.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Conversation with Mr Friendly - David Watt

While, I was at Mid Atlantic Leather, I had the opportunity to talk to David Watt about the Mr Friendly program.  This was a person I have wanted to talk to for a while to learn more about the program and its goals.  And below, this is what I gathered from our talk.

For those unaware of the Mr Friendly program, it is a program with the aim to eliminate the stigma that those living with HIV face day to day.  They want to create an environment where people don't fear being able to openly discuss their status.  Through this initial goal, they hope to reduce the transmission of HIV be allowing people to honestly discuss their status with a potential partner.  A secondary goal is to help reduce the transmission of HIV.  This includes the hopes that people will be more apt to test for HIV and know their status without fear of being stigmatized if they do happen to get a positive result.  By knowing their status instead of trying to stay ignorant of it, they can take the proper steps to protect themselves or their partners.  And if they do find out they are positive, instead of hiding in fear, they can seek treatment that both lets them live a comparably standard life to that of someone negative and also keeps their viral load low to where they have a very low risk of passing the virus onto others.  Both partners have to be knowledgable of their status.  Both partners need to be able to discuss their status without fear.  Only then, can they make a proper use on what method(s) of protection they will use.  Whether this is condom use, Pre-Exposure Prophalxis (PrEP), sero-sorting, non-penetrative sexual practices, or all of the above...this is all up to the partners.  But they have to be knowledgeable of their status and be comfortable to discuss it with their partner to make sure they are using the proper level of protection that both partners can agree to.

Here is the logo for Mr Friendly:

This is not a program only for those living with HIV.  It is a program for everyone.  If you notice in the logo, it incorporates both the positive(+) and negative (-) signs.  This is a show of unity between both those with and without HIV, working together to help eliminate the stigma.  Without allies in the majority, it is hard to make change.  Plus, we are all human.  We all feel.  We are all in this together.  And no one should be made to feel less about themself.

One of the aspects with this program is that it is fairly new.  It is in a growing and learning phase, and like all good programs, it will always continue to learn and grow.  We all can say something that may feel like it is a non-issue, but may be insulting or intimidating to someone living with HIV.  As the program learns and grows, they try to help educate others how not to accidentally insult the very people we are trying to support.

One interesting topic did come up during the conversation.  It came from a person who viewed that the program is a good one, they felt a bit apprehensive about using cute logos as part of an HIV acceptance program.  He felt that people are already pretty slack with protecting themselves from HIV and something like this would encourage that.  Looking back at the situation, I couldn't think of a good way to present my view to the person, but hindsight is always 20/20.  This person made a very strong case for his views.  While I do partially agree with the person about people becoming slack with the use of he different forms of protection, I disagree about the use of the "cute logos".  The logo is not about acceptance of having or acquiring HIV.  The logo is about acceptance of the people living with HIV.  It is a way to show that there are people out there that don't care about your status when it comes to you being a person.  And only when people can treat each other as equals regardless of status, hopefully we can stem the new transmissions of HIV through use of testing to know your status and the proper uses of the different forms of protection can we hope to end HIV.

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