We all have an HIV status, regardless of who we are or where we live. And we should all be tested for HIV at least once. Yet 6 in 10 Oregonians have never been tested.
In rural parts of the state, it’s even more evident there’s work left to be done to increase testing for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).
To reach zero new HIV infections in Oregon, it will require open, honest and non-judgmental conversations about sexual health in rural communities, not just Portland. But reaching audiences in conservative, rural communities with sexual health messages can be trickier than in urban areas.
Speaking to rural communities about HIV
As a gay man raised “upriver” as we’d say in my small hometown, I can appreciate when people say they don’t need to worry about HIV, because they’re straight, or married, or that’s a “city thing.” But the reality is that any sexually active adult is at risk for HIV or an STI, regardless of your gender, relationship status or sexual orientation. And of course, HIV doesn’t stick to city limits.
In April, I helped CK launch an HIV testing and education campaign in Eastern Oregon. On behalf of Eastern Oregon Center for Independent Living (EOCIL) and End HIV Oregon, our team unveiled HIV testing ads in Pendleton, Hermiston, La Grande, Baker City and surrounding areas experiencing a recent increase in new HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea cases. It was the first campaign in the state, and one of the first in the country, to focus HIV education messaging on rural populations.
I’m proud to say the messaging and visuals were authentic and culturally relevant to the communities where the campaign ran. They were tested on hundreds of people living in rural Oregon, which was imperative to the campaign’s success. And I like to believe that based on my own background, not as a gay man but as someone from rural Oregon, that I provided an informed point of view as the project lead.
Working together, we can end new HIV infections
If we all got tested for HIV at least once, we could end new HIV infections in Oregon. It’s as easy as asking your doctor for a test at your next check-up. Or even ordering a FREE at-home HIV test if you’d prefer not to ask your provider in a rural community.
The campaign ads and news stories thoughtfully and strategically brought HIV to the forefront of these communities where sexual health and education don’t always receive the attention, or funding, that they should.
I hope this is just the start of the conversation surrounding HIV in our state. All good conversations, and ad campaigns, require good listening. If along the way we include voices of those most affected, we can create real change and build healthier communities, together.