Before Mr Friendly began in September 2008, I had been working for years passing out free condoms at various events and clubs with a safe sex message. It seemed like my message only hit home with a small percentage of people. I felt that most people I met already knew how HIV was spread. I achieved the most impact just by sitting and talking to people about HIV, their sexual health and barriers to communication around HIV. This seemed like a better direction.
I had actually worked on creating a symbol to fight stigma for years. I wanted to show that I was poz-friendly and to let others know that they could openly discuss HIV with me, no matter their status. Yet I did not want a button that said “poz-friendly” since to some that encouraged the question about my own status. I witnessed many people living with HIV being treated poorly, like second class citizens. Phrases like “drug disease free – you be too” and “I’m clean, expect the same” all add to stigma. Mr Friendly was carefully designed with equal weight for both a positive and a negative symbol. It is important to me that the symbol is for EVERYone without indicating the person’s status. Poz or Neg, we are all in this together!
In September of 2008, I competed for Mr Michigan leather at the Dunes Resort in Douglas, MI. Mr Friendly was part of a speech I gave to encourage people on-line and in person to treat everyone with respect. I did win the Mr Michigan Leather title and spent the next year traveling to many events passing out free Mr Friendly buttons and talking to others about stigma of HIV. Professionally, I had just started a new job at Community AIDS Resource and Education Services (CARES) in the field of HIV. CARES adopted Mr Friendly as a program offering 501c3 non-profit status in September 2009.
I am continually inspired that Mr Friendly’s message has been so well received and that his message touches EVERYbody. Mr Friendly is a visual representation of how so many people feel.
Thank You for caring and for fighting stigma of HIV via Mr Friendly!