exclusive
Advertisement

around the web



TMZ Tour
TMZ Tour


"Runway" Star's Worthy New Project: HIV= Campaign

1014_hiv_launch

Jack Mackenroth made headlines back in 2007 when he publicly announced his HIV-status on "Project Runway."

Six years later, Jack is making headlines again, this time for his efforts to end HIV stigma and encouraging testing.

Jack and celebrity photographer Thomas Evans came up with a dynamic visual campaign called HIV= or HIV Equal. Jack described the premise of HIV= to toofab's Lawrence Yee.

"We're photographing people from all walks of life standing tall with the HIV= logo on their body somewhere," Jack explained. "It's not so much about a person's HIV status, it's about knowing your status. Instead of positive or negative we're all equal."

To that end, everyone who is photographed also undergoes confidential testing. But the logo isn't the only part of the campaign, which is backed by World Health Clinicians.

"You notice in the photos, there's a whole play on words with  the word 'status,' Jack explained. "Instead of positive or negative we have people pick an individualized status word."

"[Drag queen] Bianca Del Rio put 'natural' because she's clearly not very natural," Jack said jokingly. "It's what [the subjects] identify themselves with."

Other participants have included Broadway actor Nick Adams (Status: Showman), Representative Jim Hines (Status: Congressman), porn actor/director Michael Lucas (Status: Controversial) and Jack himself (Status: Fearless).

Jack has been pleased with the support -- both celebrity and non-celebrity -- HIV= has received. "As an HIV positive person I think it is so touching that so many people were willing to pose for these photos without giving it a second thought as HIV is still a very loaded issue and other people may assume that they are HIV positive just by association." He adds, "That's the great thing about HIV= ... we're not labeling anyone."

Despite the increased visibility, Jack knows there's a long way to go in changing attitudes towards HIV. He believes that advances in HIV treatment, while beneficial to the public health, have made the public stigma of HIV worse.

"I was converted in 1989. I was expected to live 2-3 years max. Now if you know your status and start treatment, the life expectancy is basically the same of an HIV-negative person. But because of that, there's no visibility, you don't see 'sick' people and you don't see people dying like they used to," Jack explained. The stigma is still present and negative.

To demonstrate his point, Jack offered this example. "Imagine writing 'I am HIV-positive' on your Facebook status. What would you feel? The blame and shame is alive and well."

But Jack remains optimistic.

"We're starting conversations. It's perfect to share on social media and Twitter (@hivequal). The imagery is really compelling. If just one person sees it and gets tested it's a success."

The HIV Equal photo exhibition officially launches October 26th at an LGBT wellness event at World Health Clinicians in Norwalk, CT. For more information, visit HIVequal.org and be sure to check out more photos in the gallery above.



blog comments powered by Disqus