Background: From 2008-2010, new HIV infections in the U.S. rose 22 percent among young gay men ages 13-24, according to the CDC. The fastest increases were among those of color. Overall, young gay men account for one in five new infections in the U.S. They are among those least likely to be diagnosed or to be in care and on treatment. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that HIV is not being talked about much, if at all, by gay and bisexual men, even with those closest to them. Nearly half say not even with intimate partners. Two thirds say the topic rarely or never comes up with friends. Even fewer say they talk about HIV with family.
Program background: #SpeakOutHIV is the social media component of the broader Speak Out campaign from Greater Than AIDS, which seeks to re-engage the LGBTQ community in confronting the silence and stigma that still surrounds HIV. Speak Out encourages more conversations about HIV in relationships, with health care providers and within the community. #SpeakOutHIV tackles the challenge with a simple concept: Empower LGBTQ youth with the knowledge and skills to speak out about HIV where they are – on social media. It started with 25 young gay men who attended a digital storytelling workshop organized by Greater Than AIDS and partners in Washington, DC in September 2015. The result was 25 powerful personal videos that launched the #SpeakOutHIV movement. The participants heard from experts about the latest developments in HIV prevention and treatment before recording their own messages about HIV to be shared through social media. Following the inaugural workshop, two more - supported by local health departments - were held in Atlanta, GA and Dallas, TX. More workshops are planned in other cities across the nation later this year.
Evaluation Methods and Results: Now more than 70 strong, the #SpeakOutHIV ambassadors are between 18-25 from various geographic locations, educational backgrounds and careers. A majority are of color and from the South. Some are HIV-positive. Most are not. The videos document intensely personal, sometimes emotional moments, and shed light on how a generation grapples with the virus and what they are doing to protect their health, regardless of status. To date, the #SpeakOutHIV videos have been viewed more than 400,000 times.
Conclusions: There is strong evidence that the #SpeakOutHIV stories are promoting a more open dialogue around HIV and even encouraging actions in real life as well as online. One example was the recent successful mobilization of youth across the U.S. who shared their #SpeakOutHIV messages for National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on April 10 through outreach of the #SpeakOutHIV ambassadors.
Implications for research and/or practice: Digital storytelling can be a powerful way to address stigma and bring voice to communities hardest hit by the HIV epidemic. This user-generated content is an effective way to prevent new HIV infections, connect people to testing services, and improve health status by helping to link people who test positive to treatment and care.