In 2014, the Elton John AIDS Foundation partnered with the Anova Health Institute in South Africa to launch the continent’s first ever national programme to support men who have sex with men (MSM). Together, we’re supporting the roll out of stigma-free sexual health care and accessible and engaging HIV prevention and treatment information. By doing so, we’ll ensure that over 1 million gay men know their HIV status - reducing the number of new infections and AIDS-related deaths for a population that has largely been overlooked and underserved in the country’s response to HIV.
A key element of the programme is ‘We The Brave’ - a dynamic and entertaining sexual health communication campaign that addresses prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgmental way. The campaign asks ”Are you #BraveEnough?” to make healthy sexual choices, like wearing a condom, getting tested regularly and knowing your status.
A series of edgy videos to promote the campaign launched in 2015, with one in particular making headlines in South Africa. The ‘Kiss’ video – which shows two men embracing in front of a parent – suggests that if you’re brave enough to come out to your family, you’re brave enough to wear a condom. When aired on TV however, the Advertising Standards Agency were bombarded with complaints – viewers branding the commercial “offensive,” “disgusting” and “inappropriate”.
Anova fought back against the complaints, highlighting that this was indicative of the level of stigma and discrimination gay men in South Africa face on a daily basis. In a victory for the programme and for the LGBT community, the watchdog threw out the complaints stating “the dignity and freedom to choose one's sexual orientation is constitutionally protected”. At the Elton John AIDS Foundation we believe that stigma fuels HIV and only by making sure that no one is left behind can we get closer to achieving an AIDS free future.