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By Nicholas Olson

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The Mr. Friendly team. The back of one banner was signed by the marchers and a second banner was signed with names of those we were marching for.

To celebrate Pride this year, I was fortunate enough to walk with the Mr. Friendly team in the New York City LGBT pride march on Sunday, June 28. Mr. Friendly is an international grassroots movement whose mission is to reduce HIV stigma, encourage HIV testing and improve quality of life for those living with HIV in friendly ways.

In 2008, Dave Watt created Mr. Friendly as part of the nonprofit Community AIDS Resource and Education Services (CARES). CARES aims to reduce stigma through open and honest conversations about HIV and to remove the misunderstandings many people have about the virus. Today, Mr. Friendly has chapters in cities throughout the United States, and representatives from Florida, Tennessee and Philadelphia among other places came to New York City to march in the parade.  

The group made 12 banners to spread its message with slogans in English and Spanish like: "Love Knows No Status," "Aqui Por Ti, Positivo or Negativo," and "Live Stigma-Free of HIV."

During the march, we drew attention from the crowd by having members of the Mr. Friendly team pose with the signs. We stopped to create photo ops in front of the spectators in the crowd as often as we could. The team also handed out business cards for the Mr. Friendly Facebook group to encourage people to tag us and like us when they snapped our picture. The goal was to pose for as many pictures as possible, and to inspire people to follow up on social media.

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An example of our photo-op strategy.

Three members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence joined our group, and their glamour helped us gain a lot of attention. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an order of queer nuns who first appeared in San Francisco in 1979. They devote themselves to community service, ministry and outreach and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.

Two wore black-and-white, polka-dot headdresses, and gold, black and white outfits to match. The third wore multicolored sequins from headdress to gown. Their makeup--stark white foundation, colorful details, dyed beards--added to their allure. The crowd loved the sisters and their gorgeous, graceful presence. Many attendees were eager to snap pictures with them along with the Mr. Friendly signs and group members.

Before the parade, many of the group members went to the Stonewall Inn on Friday night to pay our respects to the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, as well as celebrate the day's historic Supreme Court decision guaranteeing same-sex marriage equality. They brought along one of the Mr. Friendly banners, which attracted attention from both Stonewall patrons and the reporters who had gathered to cover the event.

Watt says he created Mr. Friendly because he "witnessed many people living with HIV being treated poorly, like second-class citizens." He wanted to create an icon that would be inclusive with "equal weight for both positive and negative" individuals, as a way to remove HIV stigma without indicating a person's status. During Sunday's march, many people in the crowd expressed their gratitude for sharing this message.

Overall, the march was very successful for Mr. Friendly, as evidenced by the number of photos taken by the crowd and shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

As I walked with my sign, which read "Live Stigma-Free of HIV," I felt like it offered hope and inspiration for everyone reading it . It was an honor to walk with the Mr. Friendly team and spread their HIV destigmatization message during this historic time in LGBTQ life.

By Benjamin Ryan (Editor At Large, POZ/AIDSmeds/Hep)

You may recognize my byline from the pages of POZ. I'm the science reporter who covers research about HIV treatment, care and prevention. You may also recall from a blog post I wrote last year that I have a side venture as a dancer and perform each June in a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS called Broadway Bares.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of this singularly fantastic New York City event, which uses the razzle-dazzle and talent of the New York theater and dance community to put on an elaborate, one-night-only burlesque show for a crowd of thousands of screaming fans. This year's show was titled "Top Bottoms of Burlesque," a send-up of the classic musical 42nd Street.

I appeared in the opening number, which paid homage to 42nd Street's most famous image--the curtain rising to reveal a sea of tapping feet--by lifting the curtain on an expansive bevy of bouncing butts. A Chorus Line-style audition scene ensued as a cast of talented "bottoms" was selected for the show within a show. (The dance captain deemed the bossy bottoms too bossy and they got cut.)

The numbers that followed highlighted the talent, passion and, above all, sexiness of the cast of some 150 dancers. Far and away the most exciting part of the show was the appearance of Orange Is the New Black's Laverne Cox, who gave the Tina Turners and Béyoncés of the world a serious run for their money as she absolutely tore up the stage. The crowd went wild. (Backstage she was as divine as you would hope, and not an ounce the diva, chatting with us and obliging our eagerness for pictures with her.) The show also featured appearances by RuPaul's Drag Race winner Bianca del Rio and Hairspray's Harvey Fierstein.

Click here to see a wrap-up video of the show as well as Cox's incredible moves.

A seven-year veteran of Broadway Bares, I had my best experience in the show by far this year. The spirit of those involved has never been more passionate and committed to the larger cause, and the show has never been more spectacular, fully inhabiting our new space at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom with lofty LED screens, an intricate set, and sophisticated lighting and sound. In addition, there were the eye-popping costumes (or lack thereof) as well as makeup (often covering just about every inch of our bodies) by a fantastic crew from MAC Cosmetics. (Almost all work on the show, even from the Teamsters who haul in the sets, is done on a volunteer basis.)

The show raised a record-breaking $1.6 million to support people living with HIV and other health initiatives. In the cast and crew's fundraising drive, known as the Stripathon, we collectively brought in over $585,000. I was very proud to raise $17,345 of that total myself, which made me the highest fundraiser this year and landed me with the title of Mr. Stripathon 2015. It was an honor I'd not yet achieved during my years in the show, throughout which I've raised over $80,000. (If you'd care to donate to the cause or to learn more about where the money goes, you can click here. The show accepts donations through the end of the year.)

To think that I have the honor not only of working to combat HIV and support people living with the virus on print, but also on such a celebrated stage, is a pretty neat feeling and makes me very proud.

Below are pictures from Broadway Bares XXV, most of which I took during the dress rehearsal. (I also dabble in photography.)

Opening number. Photo by Jamal Shuriah.

Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Benjamin Horen. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Casey Lee Ross. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Jakob Karr of So You Think You Can Dance. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Laverne Cox. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Bianca del Rio. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Nick Adams and cast. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Josh Green and cast. Photo by Benjamin Ryan.

Photo by Mat James.

Benjamin Ryan and Laverne Cox backstage.

Bravo's Andy Cohen announces that Benjamin Ryan has raised the most money in the Stripathon.

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(Left to right): Cindy Stine, Reed Vreeland (Housing Works), Laura Whitehorn, Sean Strub, Tre Alexander (Philadelphia FIGHT), Akil Patterson (The Osborne Association) at the initial Turn It Up! Planning meeting, September 2014, Milford, PA. Present but not pictured are Suzy Martin (Prison Health News), Robert Suttle and Matt Ebert.

NYC-based advocacy group the Sero Project is working on a comprehensive new health resource called "Turn it Up!" aimed at people living with HIV and/or hepatitis who are incarcerated. The organization, which focuses on HIV criminalization, discrimination and social justice issues, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $5,000 to publish and distribute the book.

As Sero Project member Robert Suttle says in the Kickstarter video, "'Turn It Up!' will give readers the tools they need to advocate for their health from the inside."

Our founder, Sean Strub, went on to found the Sero Project to continue his advocacy efforts against the criminalization of HIV. Also, two former POZ staffers, Laura Whitehorn and Suzy Martin, are co-editing the book, which will be written with a peer-to-peer voice to connect with people who have been incarcerated, those who are currently still behind bars, as well as their family and community members.

The organization hopes that the guide "will help those serving time to navigate health care and stay as healthy as possible," pointing out how difficult it can be to get crucial information about HIV and hepatitis while incarcerated.

The Sero Projects estimates production and distribution costs will be about $2 per issue, and hopes to distribute "Turn It Up!" across the country; with help, more people can gain access to the knowledge they need to stay healthy and improve their quality of life both in and out of prison.

Click here to view the Sero Project's "Turn It Up!" Kickstarter campaign.

poz100_jacques_agbobly.jpgIn honor of Pride month, held every year in June, not to mention the pending Supreme Court case to determine national marriage equality, online insurance brokers Esurance recently released a video in support of LGBTQ marriage. The progressive ad features Jacques Agbobly, one of the 2014 POZ 100.

You'll recognize Agbobly as one of the first faces from last year's POZ 100, which honored people under age 30 working to combat HIV/AIDS around the world.

In the video, which talks to children of all gender identities and sexualities about what marriage means to them, Agbobly shares his perspective as a young gay man from Togo who now lives in Chicago.

"When I realized that I was gay, I definitely did not think that I would be able to get married. Culturally it was unacceptable, so marriage was out of the question," he recalls.

Then, along with several other young, LGBTQ individuals, Agbobly describes his hopes that legal barriers in the U.S. will soon change so that all marriages will officially be recognized and protected under national law.

To learn more about Jacques Agbobly and his HIV/AIDS activism, click here.

VICE Reports on PrEP

| 1 Comment
vice_truvada.jpgVICE Media has produced a three-part video series on using the HIV drug Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent contracting the virus.

The videos feature PrEP activist Damon Jacobs and other PrEP users, as well as various medical experts and community activists.

Watch the videos:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


| 1 Comment
demetre_david.jpgIn a new video series from the Greater Than AIDS campaign titled #AskTheHIVDoc, longtime HIV physicians Demetre Daskalakis, MD, and David Malebranche, MD, answer questions from gay men about HIV/AIDS and sexual health.

Check out their first introductory video and watch the entire playlist:

Or, you can check out each of the videos here:
Does My Doc Need to Know I'm Gay?
Swab My Butt!
Top or Bottom?
How Would I Know?
Is PrEP Right for Me?
What Does it Mean to Be "Undetectable"?
Let's Do It!
How Often?
Post Hook Up Worries?
Sharing Meds?
HIV Positive? What's Next?
But I Don't Feel Sick...?


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