If anyone is in tune with politics (at least in the Mid-Atlantic region) you should know the name Brian Sims [A&U, September 2018]. Brian Sims is a Democratic Pennsylvania State Representative, and also a part of the LGBTQ community. Sims is very vocal on any and all social media outlets, whether on Twitter, where he states that he is a “civil rights attorney, College Football Captain, Bearded, RuPaul’s Drag Race fanatic, and Little Mermaid enthusiast,” or on his Instagram, where he has pictures from his day-to-day life with his dog, friends, and family.
One recent April post on Instagram received a lot of attention. Sims posted a picture of his daily pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) stating, “PrEP/PEP: Starting this day off smart, proactive, and in control! Think this is an invite to talk about my sex life? It’s not. Think it’s an invite to shame me or anyone else? Grow up. ‘Stigma’ is the thing our enemies want us to be stunted by. It literally kills us. It’s stupid and we control our own fate. No shame in this game. Just Pride. #PrEPsavesLIVES.” Basically, with this post Brian Sims came out of the PrEP closet. When I saw this, I couldn’t be prouder of Sims. So, this entry is dedicated to Rep. Sims for his courage and leadership. Here are five things about Sims’ PrEP post that make the world better for HIV prevention.
1. Lead by Example
Sims is doing just that—leading by example. When most people in the general public see someone who is well known within their own community adhere to preventative measures, it is more likely that they will conform to that same prevention method. It is important that the LGBTQ community accept PrEP as a preventative measure but also know they can use condoms with or without PrEP.
2. Inexpensive PrEP Campaign
Sims basically made his own HIV prevention campaign for PrEP. Being a part of HIV campaigns, I can tell you firsthand that it’s easy to be a model but not easy to create nor fund an HIV campaign. On Sims’ Facebook page he posted a picture of his PrEP regimen and stated, “Starting this day off smart, proactive, and in control! How about you? #PrEPsavesLIVES.” That line itself can be a PrEP campaign! With marketing and messaging it could be bigger than the as of now 3.1K liked post.
3. Fighting PrEP Stigma
Ever since PrEP became available it has faced criticism. People have said PrEP is nothing but an excuse for people to have “unprotected” sex. Well, as most of us know, PrEP is an HIV prophylaxis, which mean whoever is on PrEP and engaging in intercourse is indeed having protected sex, with or without a condom. Sims is taking a stand with his post in stating on his Facebook page by making sure people know the effects of stigma and proclaiming his pride.
4. Empowerment Is Everything
Empowering a population is hard work, but, with people like Sims, it becomes easier. Empowering a population to be able to take back their lives by giving them the power to choose what prophylaxis they want to use is paramount in HIV prevention. Empowering the LGBTQ population in HIV prevention needs to be at the forefront of any PrEP campaign because the LGBTQ community is one that is deeply affected by HIV.
5.Starting a Discussion
Looking at his page and reading the replies to his post, I was reminded that there are so many different sides to the question, “Should I go on PrEP?” I’m guessing that Sims is not telling people what do to or how to lives their lives, but simply informing us what his HIV prevention path is. Since today the post has garnered over 530 comments and the replies are still increasing. There are people citing the negatives and positives about going on PrEP; people praising Sims for his courage (me included) and thanking him for his attempt at dismantling stigma. All in all, he started a discussion that will have legs.
I wanted to commend Brian Sims and say, “Thank you, sir. You are truly an amazing man and I’m glad you have decided to do this. This takes chutzpah (guts) and there are a lot of people who are on PrEP who are shamed into the PrEP closet. You have made it easier for people to say, ‘Yes, I am on PrEP and I’m proud of it.’ You have made those people that have been already empowered by you to stand up for themselves in the face of adversity and take control of their own HIV prevention measure. Good on you, sir, and thank you again.”
Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, DrPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].