Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Two halves make a whole

Regan Hofmann, the international HIV/AIDS activist and editor in chief of 'POZ' magazine, is in Taipei with her boyfriend Sean Foster to raise publicawareness of the disease

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Though Hofmann was becoming more comfortable about disclosing her condition - she told her family almost immediately after she tested positive and they have been supportive - there were still many times she wouldn't reveal her condition because she couldn't predict how a person would react.

Given the choice, Hofmann would have preferred only to disclose her HIV-positive status to those she was closest to or those who she knew could accept the disease without being judgmental.

Ten years after contracting the virus and four years after publishing her first article in POZ, the magazine called her with a life-changing offer: they wanted her to become the magazine's editor in chief and the cover subject for her first issue - thereby losing her anonymity.

Before accepting the offer, Hofmann wondered whether she was representative of the AIDS community. "I didn't want to come forward as a representative of the community unless I represented a large swath of [that] community," she said.

Further research revealed to Hofmann that she was, in fact, typical of one segment of the HIV/AIDS community that she felt wasn't receiving enough attention. "I remember when I was fact checking I looked at the statistics and I kept asking myself: 'Is this right? Is this right? One in three people infected in the US [are women]? That can't be true. I'd never seen a woman on TV that is HIV positive. Ever.'" She accepted the position.

Her cover article for POZ immediately gained the attention of the news media and turned Hofmann into one of the US' top HIV/AIDS activists overnight. Interviews on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America followed, and she wrote articles for women's magazines such as Vogue and Marie Clare.

A new strategy

The strategy employed by Hofmann and POZ is simple: send a positive message rather than one of fear, focus on health rather than disease and emphasize longevity over imminent death.

"It used to be scare tactics, scaring people and talking down to them. Now the messaging is friendlier and more upbeat. It's got to be normalized like that. Otherwise, people aren't even going to watch the commercial," she said referring to public service broadcasts during the 1980s and 1990s that featured heartbreaking images of children with HIV in Africa or emaciated AIDS patients in hospital beds.

"People don't want to talk about AIDS. They don't want to talk with anyone who has AIDS. One of my things is [to] come with a friendly approach, come with an approach that won't scare people away."

To facilitate this softer approach, POZ is the process of creating an online video library of people with AIDES recounting their stories. This approach, says Hoffmann, will be accessible to all ages and social classes

Hofmann sees HIV/AIDES awareness in a larger global context: "This is a humanitarian issues, we have the means to treat and care for and emotionally support to the people living with this disease but we have to individually change the way we see the disease."

She says she admires courageous individuals like Harmony Home Association (關愛之家協會) founder and secretary general Nicole Yang(楊捷) , a woman who has selflessly helped people living with HIV/AIDS for the past twenty years.

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