Three years ago, the WETHEBRAVE.co.za campaign kicked off, asking gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) to be #BraveEnough to make healthy sexual choices like wearing a condom, getting tested regularly and knowing their status. Today, the large-scale, national sexual health campaign has, in partnership with Health4Men, been responsible for enabling over 490 000 men to be tested at MSM-friendly clinics and giving over 12 000 men access to HIV treatment.
“We are incredibly proud of all we have achieved in such a short space of time. MSM are South Africa’s most at-risk population for HIV acquisition and transmission. We are so pleased with the strides we have made in changing behaviour to encourage responsible sex, reduce HIV transmission and promote health-seeking behaviour,” says Nina Morris Lee, Head of Marketing at the Anova Health Institute which is spearheading the campaign, thanks to funding from the Elton John Aids Foundation. “Most importantly, however, we are thrilled to have made an impact on people’s lives.”
Monde Ngwane, a student who chairs a forum at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) College of Health Sciences, shares that WETHEBRAVE.co.za has played a large part in enabling their advocacy work in the MSM community. “A lot of people have now been enlightened about health tips, sexual safety and the resources available to them through WETHEBRAVE.co.za, particularly because of the way that the information is packaged and distributed. This is changing the way that we, as a community, relate to and access information.”
Fellow UKZN student, Sthembiso Mkhize, first heard about the WETHEBRAVE.co.za campaign at an event held on campus. “They taught us about having safe sex, how to use condoms and how we could access medical services for our sexual health. Because of the way that they shared the information, I was able to listen properly and now I practice safe sex.”
Over the past three years, WETHEBRAVE.co.za has addressed HIV prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgemental and sex-positive way that is also entertaining and engaging. One of the many interesting and exciting ways it has done so was by teaming up with fashion designer Stiaan Louw to design a limited-edition range of underwear for a campaign called ‘Cover Your Butt’. This coincided with the announcement that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication was readily available in South Africa. If taken daily, by HIV negative individuals, PrEP can drastically reduce the chances of HIV infection. The campaign brought to life the concept that HIV prevention could become as easy and routine as changing one’s underwear.
WETHEBRAVE.co.za has also sought to stamp out the stigma that still surrounds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people – one of the major deterrents to testing. Morris Lee shares: “One of the most memorable events was the flighting of one of our ads featuring two men kissing after Carte Blanche one Sunday evening. Despite the backlash received, including complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, we were brave enough to stand up against stigmatism in the hope that others will too.”
With South Africa’s LGBT community still facing discrimination, abuse and even violence, WETHEBRAVE.co.za hasbeen celebrating their bravery for being proud of who they are in spite of the challenges they face, by sponsoring Pride Festivals around the country, where hundreds of MSM have been #BraveEnough to get tested for HIV.
In addition, over 30 MSM have bravely shared their stories on the campaign’s website and social media platforms – one of whom was Camille von Zuush, Miss Drag South Africa 2017. On her experience of the WETHEBRAVE.co.za campaign, she says: “I was at the initial launch and from that point, I was sold. They have so many innovative ideas about how to bring across their message and how to address different issues faced by the LGBT community.” She shares that her decision to tell her story was due to there being so many people who are still in the closet in terms of their sexuality and scared of coming out or meeting like-minded people. “WeTheBrave lets you discover a community on your own terms and, when you’re ready, are there to support you.”
Singer Kallie (AKA Kellan) Kotze, who also shared his story and stance on the hate crimes still happening in South Africa, says that after it was published he felt that he could freely be who he is and say what he feels. “I have gained tremendous respect from industry experts, partly due to me taking a stance and being brave!” He adds: “My story needed to be heard as there are so many teens going through what I went through and I wanted to emphasise the truth that everything will be okay. We’ve come a long way, but there is always room for improvements – tactless mind-sets and stereotyping must finally come to an end!”
A major coup for WETHEBRAVE.co.za was having music legend and AIDS activist, Sir Elton John mentioning it at the #AIDS2016 International Conference. He also championed it in person by visiting one of the community clinics linked to the campaign, together with his husband, David Furnish and the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi.
“With accomplishments like these, we are well on our way to achieving our goals of ensuring that MSM have the knowledge and opportunities to prevent new HIV infections; understand the benefits of regular HIV testing to know their status; use antiretroviral treatment when and if they need it; and take PrEP to reduce their chances of HIV infection if they are HIV-negative but at-risk. We look forward to reaching and empowering many more men with this progressive and sex-positive campaign,” concludes Morris Lee.