The Mr. Friendly campaign logo – now seen frequently at pride gatherings, festivals, and other community events – is a smiley face constructed with a positive (+) and a negative (-) sign set in a value-neutral way.  But the simplicity of the design belies the campaign's central goal: the elimination of the stigma of HIV. 

Campaign founder Dave Watt believes that once that stigma is eliminated, three associated problems will then quickly resolve:

(1) the fear associated with HIV testing, which currently keeps too many people from checking their status regularly

(2) the social neglect and isolation of those with an HIV+ status

(3) the fear of discussing status with one another in all contexts 

With these problems corrected, a unified community should replace the current one in which HIV status is divisive all too frequently.

Watt began the campaign in 2008 after observing that open, one-on-one discussions about HIV had the greatest impact on peoples' attitudes. He had also observed that the familiar "poz friendly" proclamations often created questions about the HIV status of the bearer rather than creating an open and fear-free discussion of HIV. This inspired the creation of the Mr. Friendly logo, carefully crafted but deceptively simple.

On the campaign's website, Watt humorously explains that the plus symbol was intentionally not used for one of the eyes, as it made the face look like it had been punched, and that both the plus and minus signs were intentionally set in the same color to signify status equality. Watt felt that displaying a Mr. Friendly logo would communicate commitment to the goals of the campaign, rather than simply proclaim personal tolerance or imply HIV status. 

Mr. Friendly's face has begun appearing throughout Tennessee because of efforts of Nashville resident Stephen Bloodworth, who first encountered the campaign last year. "Tennessee needed Mr. Friendly," Bloodworth said in a phone interview. "There were no Team Friendlies anywhere in the state, and so I took the initiative to bring the movement where it was sorely needed."  After getting buttons and creating signs and banners, Bloodworth attended his first event, World's AIDS Day in Knoxville in December 2013. Distributing Mr. Friendly materials allowed him to initiate conversations with festival-goers and encourage them to utilize free on-site HIV testing.  "The campaign's strategy is to have affirming, personal conversations, and it works...people will put on the Mr. Friendly button and then go to be tested." 

At Nashville's Pride festival in June of this year, he shared a booth with representatives of the Integrated Health Cooperative, who were amazed by how many people who came for testing were wearing the Mr. Friendly button.  "It's in the more relaxed setting of festivals where it's easiest to approach someone to discuss the importance of testing, something that's often difficult in bars and other venues,” Bloodworth explains. 

But Mr. Friendly hasn't been absent from Nashville’s bars: both The Conductors and The Music City Sisters have spread the word during their bar nights, and the Sisters have successfully raised funds for Bloodworth's Team Friendly Tennessee.  "My intention is to spread the message not only in Nashville but throughout the state."  OutCentral has provided Bloodworth with free space for Team meetings to recruit new members and prepare for upcoming events. 

To stay informed about upcoming meetings and get involved, be sure to "like" the Team Friendly Tennessee page on Facebook. Postings include informative articles on HIV and AIDS, as well as notices of community events. You can also write to TeamFriendlyTennessee@gmail.com in order to be added to the Team's mailing list. 

The national Mr. Friendly campaign offers training courses on erasing HIV stigma, as well as related subjects, such as how best to discuss one’s HIV status.  The campaign won the 2012 Pantheon Award for the best non-profit of the year.  For complete info, see www.mrfriendly.info, which has links to its Facebook, Twitter, and other social media pages.

 

 

 

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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