What do celebrities like Zachary Quinto, George A. Johnson, Zachary Drucker or Charles Stephens have in common? The fight against HIV and the criminalisation of the disease represents a personal concern for all those mentioned here. On behalf of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the speakers at IAS 2021 spoke about why storytelling can be used as a powerful tool against discrimination.
Storytelling has the power to inspire, excite and effectively bring about change in hearts and minds - this is what all speakers at the satellite symposium "HIV Is Not A Crime: Storytelling to Change Laws & Fight Stigma" at IAS 2021 were firmly convinced of. On behalf of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, well-known faces from the fields of film, literature and culture demonstrated how a powerful story can bring issues such as HIV decriminalisation to the forefront and encourage people to fight the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Multimedia artist, cultural producer and LGBT activist Zachary Drucker emphasises that time only moves in one direction: forward. Accordingly, society also has a moral and ethical responsibility to move with the times and focus on the needs of all its members. This also includes considering people living with HIV as equals, preventing their criminalisation and breaking with old world views. But how can we get this message across to the public? All speakers at the satellite symposium agreed that storytelling is a powerful tool.
One type of storytelling that the members of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation have developed for this purpose is the short film series "True (Not) Crime Story". Seemingly outsider narrators tell of true events in which people with HIV have been discriminated against or prosecuted - and reveal at the end of the video that this is their own story. Author George M. Johnson, who wrote the script for the story of civil rights activist Robert Suttle as part of the project, emphasises at the IAS that the writing process felt cathartic for him because he recognised many parallels to himself in Suttle's story. Storytelling, Johnson is convinced, is a timeless tool for conveying important content.
Nevertheless, the speakers at the symposium emphasised, it is not enough to rely on the medium alone to convey important messages. Beforehand, one must always keep in mind which target groups one wants to reach and consider strategies on how to reach them. Technical or scientific information, for example, must be broken down in such a way that it can be understood. There is no "one size fits all" solution for talking about HIV, emphasises spokesperson Charles Stephens. When talking to people who disagree with you, you have to remain objective and give them time and space to work through their prejudices and assumptions. Then, the speakers are convinced, even sceptics can be convinced by powerful stories.
International AIDS Society Conferences (IAS) 2021, Satellite Session "HIV Is Not A Crime: Storytelling to Change Laws & Fight Stigma", 20 July 2021.