An Interview with Julian Wiehl
A powerful awareness campaign called #HIVHEROES is sweeping across the media world – with big impact! Amidst many global issues that are competing for attention in our world today, the HIV virus and its severe consequences have nearly faded into oblivion. Vangardist, an Austrian men’s magazine, just recently launched the campaign in the hopes of bringing the topic back to the table and becoming a headline in worldwide media to finally end the stigma of HIV. The campaign has aroused significant attention on a global scale – the sheer extent of which has convinced the founders of Vangardist that the stigma towards HIV is still very prevalent today. While the number of new infections are rising, the fear of touch and misunderstanding of the disease have further increased this stigma, making it difficult for HIV positive people to live with their condition.
What is so different about this campaign, you ask? 3,000 unique copies of the Vangardist’s May edition have been printed with ink and HIV positive blood. Bold? Yes. Dangerous? No.
We took a closer look at this very special edition of the Vangardist magazine and met with co-founder Julian Wiehl to have a chat about the #HIVHEROES campaign. But first, check out the campaign video here:
Q: Can you please tell us more about the Vangardist Magazine? What is it about and what does it aim to achieve?
Julian: The main reason for starting the magazine was to target a new kind of audience, which we call the “Progressive Man”. It describes the combination of the gay community and the liberal, straight man. Drawing a clear division between these two types of people was a very popular concept in the ’90s. We choose to look the other way and actually want to bring these two sides together and close the gap. This is how the “Progressive Man” was born. A liberal and curious man; the man of the future. When we publish an issue, we decide to report only about one topic. For instance, a current issue could be the power of Black and people that were born dark-skinned. And that issue can be looked at from various perspectives, be it beauty, fashion or society. We do this with every edition. We try to publish a wide variety of stories, but we bring them together into one main topic.
Q: How is the Vangardist magazine different from other men’s magazine that target the male audience?
Julian: Frankly, there are not so many men’s magazines in Austria, and I think the image of man in media has not been developed a lot so far. I feel the media has focused much more on the development of the woman, influencing how she is seen in the public, as well as the new possibilities available to women. When we started the magazine, the concept of focusing only on gay men was a little too boring for us so we added some creativity to it. We don’t only want to just talk about numbers, or the highest mountain someone has climbed, or the fastest distance someone has run. Not only about their achievements. We also want to talk about the soft skills of these men.
We always focus on the people that diverted from the normal road in life and were pioneers in a really completely new field instead and got successful there. Their experience was that if you do something that comes from deep inside and nobody has done it so far, then you really can be successful.
The #HIVHEROES campaign has actually proven this. No one else so far has risked launching an initiative that required printing a magazine with HIV positive blood. We did something new. Our goal was to break the stigma and bring HIV back to the headlines of the news worldwide. And that’s what happened. We have received news that the campaign has reached far: HIV is now being talked about in California more than ever. And the magazine was printed in Austria.
Q: How was the idea born to address the issue of HIV and what was the main motive behind the #HIVHEROES campaign?
Julian: We wanted to make use of the fact that the Life Ball was taking place in May 2015. During this time, there is a lot of international media attention in Austria, and we decided to make a significant statement at the Life Ball. We heard that Saatchi & Saatchi had the idea of launching this sort of HIV campaign, but never made it or published the idea somewhere else. We got in contact with a good friend of ours who was working there and told them that we really liked the idea. We made a cooperation, they made a pro bono campaign for us, and together we worked hard on making the idea happen.
Q: Do you think that HIV is a topic that should concern both female and male groups equally? What observations have you made in regards to their behaviour towards HIV?
Julian: The heterosexual man really needs to talk and think more about HIV. For most, protection during sexual intercourse is only really viewed as a means of preventing the conception of a child and not for preventing HIV infections. Also women need to be more informed about HIV too. A lot of them think that they do not need to think of other protection methods, because they are on the contraception pill anyway. Clearly, this is wrong. Because the receiver in sexual intercourse is always more in danger than the penetrator when it comes to HIV infection. This again shows that our society is still very uninformed about HIV.
I feel the young population doesn’t talk so much about HIV anymore, because the topic has lost its scary side. Today you can lead an almost normal life with the virus. In the past, people had to expect a very short lifespan. But this is a problem because the scare and the realization of the severity of the disease only really starts to sink in when the diagnosis is made. And then it’s too late.
You can’t notice from the outside that someone has HIV, which is good and bad. It’s good because it enables an HIV positive person to lead a somewhat normal life. But it’s bad if you can’t see it and then you meet someone who has it, because you cannot immediately tell that you need to protect yourself. Therefore, it becomes necessary to protect yourself against everyone. Another change I have noticed is that with the knowledge and the medical achievements we have today, it is less likely that people will condemn someone who is HIV positive. A positive and a negative person can still engage in sexual intercourse as long as they act responsibly. This is exactly what we want to achieve with the campaign: to educate people on how to act responsibly.
Q: In the campaign you tell the stories of three people. How did you get them to participate and was it difficult for them to share their stories?
Julian: Two of them were very willing to share their story in public. You may have noticed that one of the men chose to stay anonymous. We did not publish his name. It took some time to convince them that this was a good idea, but all three of them ended up thinking this would be a great way to bring the media to talk about HIV again. They are very satisfied with the results of the campaign so far and are glad they shared their stories with the world.
Meet the 3 blood donors Philipp, Wiltrut and Wyndham here and get to know their very personal stories.
Q: There are only 3,000 copies of the original magazine printed with HIV+ blood. How can our readers get their hands on one of these unique issues? And how can they get involved with the campaign?
Julian: There are three possibilities of how you can get involved. Firstly, you can order an infected copy at our online store. The standard edition can also be bought online and wherever magazines are sold. Both editions, the infected and the standard, support the cause, and the profit gained will go directly to charity. You can also read the magazine online. Finally, we think having the conversation about HIV is an important step in reducing stigma. You can make a statement on our page using the #HIVHEROES hashtag along with a picture to show in your community that you are concerned about the stigma involved in HIV and are willing to discuss the topic openly. If you do that, you become an HIV HERO. This is what we want to provoke: to make people come out and make statements. The same concept applies to our Facebook page. If you like our page, your facebook friends can see that you are open to discussing HIV.
HIV positive people usually feel isolated and alone. If they see that one of their friends has liked our Facebook page or has made a statement online, these people will know they have found a hero around the corner and will feel more confident in stepping forward about their condition. The more heroes we have, the more we can do. I think that everyone has a hero inside of us. When we were children, we always wanted to be heroes. Now this is our chance.
We would like to warmly thank Julian Wiehl for sharing his time & thoughts with us.
For more information about the campaign please visit www.hivheroes.org
Featured image (c) Julian Behrenbeck
Images 2+3 (c) Vangardist
image 4 (c) Daniel Gottschling