Guest Post – I Need U2 Know Campaign

In 2011 we’ll be sharing guest posts from advocates across the country highlighting examples of advocacy in action.  Do you want to be featured?  Send me an email: jmerrell@aidschicago.org.

By Laura Kirby, Western North Carolina AIDS Project

I’m thrilled to be writing about the I Need U2 Know campaign developed by the Western North Carolina AIDS Project in 2008 to address HIV-stigma.  The good folks at Dose of Change are highlighting effective campaigns from across the country, and we are honored they have included I Need U2 Know in that category.  The campaign began in 2008 with funding from the Cable Positive Foundation and was later supported by the National AIDS Fund.  You can read all about it, view the award-winning public service announcements, and sign on to the campaign pledge at www.wncap.org/iknow.

Is it urgent?  Is it strategic?  Is it winnable? Those are the kinds of questions the experts tell us should drive our advocacy campaigns.  It’s interesting to look back on the I Need U2 Know campaign with those questions in mind.

What motivated us initially was the simple fact that WNCAP clients were routinely reporting instances of stigma — subtle forms such as emotional distance and lack of physical contact from friends and relatives, to more explicit examples such as being evicted or asked to leave a job after HIV-status became known.  We knew that HIV-stigma affected all areas of life for our clients, and that it was acting as a barrier to our prevention work by limiting open and honest conversation.  In other words, it was related to every aspect of our mission and program.  Strategic. Urgent.

Winnable is more complicated.  In terms of achieving some specific endpoint or outcome, it’s not that easy.  There won’t be one exact day we can say is the day HIV-stigma ended.  We do believe we’re making progress and have tried to build several forms of evaluation into the campaign.  Early on we set up a web address where instances of HIV-stigma could be anonymously reported.  We track the number of people signing on to the campaign pledge (we’re nearing 2,000).  And in September 2009 we surveyed our client population using a published instrument (Barbara Berger’s HIV Stigma Scale), something that can be repeated in the future to help us know how much progress we’ve made.

In a different sense, though, the campaign is definitely winnable.  People who don’t personally know someone living with HIV/AIDS (at least as far as they know), who have never been involved in HIV/AIDS issues before, or who are politically or ideologically conservative can and have signed onto our campaign pledge.  We’ve found it to be a great way to build community and grow the movement in support of HIV-related services in Western North Carolina.

Our friends at NCAAN (North Carolina AIDS Action Network) have told us they’d like to use their networks to help take the campaign statewide in 2011.  We have some work to do making I Need U2 Know more accessible — taking “in Western North Carolina” off the posters and editing the phrase out of the PSAs, for example.  We also want to articulate strategies we used to negotiate partnerships with our local cable provider and others who were key to the campaign’s success.  We plan to post those things on the I Need U2 Know web pages along with the resources that are already there.

Our hope is that the campaign will be picked up by dozens of other NC communities and help generate a tide of support for PLWHA and HIV/AIDS programs and services in the state.  In the meantime, we plan to continue bringing it before WNC residents every time we host an AIDS awareness event, conduct an “HIV 101″ presentation, or  talk to local leaders and regional media about HIV/AIDS issues and events.

Thanks again to Dose of Change for letting us write about it!

Laura Kirby, WNCAP Development Director, 828-252-7489 ext. 326 or LKirby@wncap.org

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