The internet is hyper-personalised and made up of countless interlocking communities: people bound by common religion, geography, political affiliation, parental status or their favourite character from Game of Thrones.
With the internet offering these innovative approaches for targeting specific communities, it’s through online communities in particular that provide an important arena for health communication driven by communities themselves. Whether it’s finding someone else out there who shares the same unique medical condition or finding a support network surrounding everyday issues that affect health and well-being of gay and bisexual men, the Internet offers a unique and powerful type of support.
Enter, The Staying Negative Campaign. Launched in 2004 by the Health Promotion Program at VAC (Victorian Aids Council), Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices and help reduce HIV transmissions within the community.
Understanding that ‘best practice’ isn’t always feasible on a daily basis, this campaign provides a platform for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive individuals to share their personal experience as they both have an important role to play in the fight against HIV. Featuring more than 100 real-life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM), men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics (including depression, drug use, isolation, self-esteem and suicide), and explores the lived experiences of both HIV positive and HIV negative gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men.
Unlike prior HIV prevention campaigns that traditionally focus on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours, this campaign focuses on isolating and exposing the very real, everyday issues unique to MSM that stand in the way of sustained HIV prevention. This online community is all about identifying these everyday issues, and providing the personal strategies used to overcome them, even providing an opportunity for HIV positive men to discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful.
There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.
While online communities like Staying Negative aren’t designed to replace health care providers, it can be a valuable resource for people seeking assistance in dealing with health issues. The charm of this campaign is that rather than being ‘disease focused’, sharing a broad variety of stories and experiences is an interesting and positive way of engaging people in issues facing the gay and HIV positive communities. It’s all about focusing on the bigger picture; creating a world where all sexually and gender diverse people live with dignity and equal rights and participate fully in society, and that’s something that we can support.
Visit stayingnegative.net.au to see for yourself.
For more information about the VAC – including participating in education and support discussion groups and accessing their counselling service – please phone (03) 9865 6700 (or free-call 1800 134 840 for country callers).