The History of Mr Friendly
I created Mr Friendly to help us fight stigma of HIV. I had been working for years, passing out free condoms at various events and clubs with a safe sex message. It seemed like my message only hit home with a small percentage of people. I felt that most people I met already knew the basic facts about HIV. The most impact I seemed to have was just by sitting and talking to people about HIV, their sexual health and barriers to communication around HIV. This seemed like a better direction.
I had actually worked on the concept of a symbol to fight stigma for years. I wanted to show that I was poz-friendly and to let others know that they could openly discuss HIV with me no matter their status. Yet I didn’t want a button that said “poz-friendly” since to some that encouraged the question about my own status. I witnessed many people living with HIV being treated poorly, like second class citizens. Phrases like “drug disease free – you be too” and “I’m clean, expect the same” all add to stigma. Mr Friendly was carefully designed with equal weight for both a positive and a negative symbol. It’s important to me that the symbol is for EVERYone without indicating the person’s status. Poz or neg, we are all in this together!
In September 2008, I competed for Mr Michigan Leather at The Dunes Resort in Douglas, Michigan. Mr Friendly was part of a speech I gave to encourage people on-line and in person to treat everyone with respect. I did win the contest and spent the next year traveling to over forty events passing out free Mr Friendly buttons and talking to others about stigma of HIV. Professionally, I started a new job at Community AIDS Resource and Education Services (CARES) in the field of HIV. CARES adopted Mr Friendly as a program offering 501c3 non-profit status in September 2009. We are now working for Mr Friendly to have our own non-profit status.
I am continually inspired that Mr Friendly’s message has been so well received, that this message touches EVERYbody. Mr Friendly is a visual representation of how so many people feel.
Thank you for caring and for fighting stigma of HIV via Mr Friendly!
HIV Prevention Specialist
Creator of Mr Friendly