Speaking up to fight stigma: A spotlight on awareness campaigns in Quebec
C’est le sida qu’il faut exclure, pas les séropositifs
This blog post was originally submitted in French.
As many of us know, the stigmatization of people living with HIV is still the greatest barrier faced by people living with HIV in Quebec. While science is making great strides, attitudes are slow to change, even though community organizations and activists continue to tackle these stigmas head on.
Let us take you back in time to spotlight the fabulous adventure of several awareness campaigns of the Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA), under the slogan: « C’est le sida qu’il faut exclure, pas les séropositifs ,» which roughly translates to: "It's HIV/AIDS that must be excluded, not HIV-positive people" in English.
2010, the start of the adventure
Let's go back 11 years, to the launch of the first campaign of this initiative, on December 1, 2010, for World AIDS Day (WAD). The WAD theme that year was "Goal Zero: Zero new infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related deaths," and if someone had told us that this was the theme in 2021, we would have believed it, since so little has changed with respect to discrimination. However, in Quebec, things have changed a lot in terms of people's health and the number of new HIV cases. We have still had victories.
In 2010, the « c’est le sida qu’il faut exclure, pas les séropositifs » campaign was driven by the desire to change social perceptions. COCQ-SIDA mobilized four well-known Quebec personalities to share a message of tolerance and respect. Presented in a North American premiere, this initiative was visually structured around portraits of Véronique Cloutier, Josée Lavigueur, Mario Dumont and Chantal Petitclerc. In 2011, new portraits were added to include Michelle Blanc, Alexandre Despaties, Alexandra Diaz, Marie-Soleil Michon and Mathieu Proulx.
Je suis séropositif : People living with HIV speak out
The following year in 2012, COCQ-SIDA shifted its campaign focus to bring forward the voices and perspectives of people living with HIV, and invited them to affirm that "it is HIV/AIDS that must be excluded, not HIV-positive people."
The Je suis séropositif campaign features portraits of people living with HIV from different backgrounds and regions of Quebec, and aims to highlight that, beyond HIV, people living with HIV are like everyone else, with interests, skills and talents. This campaign—that featured the faces and voices of people living with HIV—was a success and the first campaign of its kind to be launched in Quebec.
An online space for expression
These awareness campaigns have all led to the creation of an online community and space for expression, called jesuisseropo.org. Since 2011, people living with HIV and their allies have contributed to this online space by posting written and video testimonials. Launched by five well-known spokespersons from the community of people living with HIV in Quebec, Bruno, Donald, Emelyne, Jacques and Yves, the online space now features the stories of 14 people.
The latest addition to this beautiful community is the eloquent activist Dr. Doris Peltier, an Anishinaabe woman, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She has been involved in the Indigenous HIV movement for several decades and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Ottawa for her many contributions to Indigenous community-based research. She has agreed to join other Je suis séropo spokespersons in stating that "« c’est le sida qu’il faut exclure, pas les séropositifs ».
There is still work to be done to reduce and eliminate stigma, but the commitment of our communities is a sign of hope. As long as our voices are heard, we are moving towards change.
This blog post was written by Charlotte Guerlotté, a community research coordinator, and René Légaré, the communications coordinator at COCQ-SIDA, the Quebec lead for REACH Nexus.