In 1981 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing a rare and fatal lung infection in five young, gay men. By the end of the year, that lung infection had become an epidemic and been officially named GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.)
After researchers realized that GRID didn't only affect gay men, the CDC changed the name to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.) Yet, three decades later there is still so much judgement, stigma, and misconception about AIDS and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS, that some people still believe the virus can be transmitted through kissing.
So 22-year-old actor and activist George Hankers took to the streets of London to see just what people really think of someone who is HIV+, as he is.
Hankers was diagnosed with HIV when he was 19. He since has spoken out about HIV discrimination in his blog, Still Human, which he uses to educate people about HIV and HIV prevention.
Hankers teamed up with the London and New York-based advocacy group, Shape History, to produce a video of his social experiment. He stood in London's Trafalgar Square, blindfolded and holding a sign that said, "I'm HIV+"
He asked people on the street to "write your messages of positivity," though since he was blindfolded these people could have written anything they thought, negative or positive, about his status.
When he took off the blindfold, though, Hankers was genuinely surprised and a little teary-eyed at the words people had written. Words like, "We are all with you buddy, keep smiling," "You are me and I am you," and "It gets better, trust me."
“When I was diagnosed with HIV, I battled with very low self esteem, and I’d been blinded from hope,” Hankers said in a press release, according to The Huffington Post. “The sense of unity I had after the experiment was very heartwarming... It really goes to show that there is more comfort out there for people living with HIV than we initially think.”
Alex Thompson-Armstrong of Shape History told The Huffington Post that the project was particularly powerful given the current debate of HIV prevention drugs. And Thompson-Armstrong is absolutely right.
The project was done in the UK, but the debate over HIV prevention drug PrEP is just as important in the U.S., and the health plan Republicans have set to replace the Affordable Care Act could take away PrEP prescriptions for people at risk of contracting HIV, especially low-income people.
Projects like Hankers's video will hopefully raise awareness about HIV and help educate those who still know little about the virus and how it can be prevented.