One of our greatest struggle as people living with HIV is how the media represents us. Most times we are either victims or threats. Those limited and distorted views of HIV fuel stigma and discrimination.
Because of this PozFem UK – our national positive women network- has put a lot of effort in preparing us to deal with the media. We have had several trainings that focused on public speaking, delivering key messages and engaging with the media. In one of our last meetings we talked a lot about how we could be more proactive and more visible. One of our dreams is to have a group interview in which we could tell our stories, and also speak about of how we have developed into a group of activists. We really would like to highlight how the struggle for PLHIV to be accepted as equal and valued members of our communities, is part of a larger battle for equity, equality, and human rights.
With World AIDS Day coming on the First of December we are getting quite a few requests to be interviewed, but I have still failed to seduce a journalist in this idea of a group interview. Anyhow, I have received some requests for individual interviews and I disseminated them among PozFem members.
Last week I put one of PozFem coordinators, L, in contact with a female journalist – a freelancer- who initially seemed really sympathetic. I gave L our guidelines on how to carry on interviews safely and effectively and I encouraged her to go ahead with it, but to be cautious, and really think through what she wanted to put across. On Friday she called me really distressed because the journalist had somehow convinced her to give her a picture of her and her partner and now wanted to sell the story with the picture to The Mirror! L was really distressed, she regretted having given her picture and she was sure it wasn’t her wish for that kind of tabloid to manipulate her story. She was particularly worried because she had recently moved house as a consequence of AIDS related hate crime, and she was really frighten of this happening again and of the consequences on her children and family. I called the journalist and somehow I managed to talk her out of it. L was really upset since she really wanted her story to be out, she was determined to challenge the myths and stereotypes around this virus, so she was really disappointed when it proved impossible.
To win peoples minds and hearts so that they feel able to show support and solidarity to those of us who live with HIV it is crucial to engage with the mainstream media, however this is a real challenge, because we need to also protect ourselves and those we love. What can be done? How can we do it?