amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Fighting Stigma: Using Storytelling to Encourage Awareness and Acceptance

May 19 is National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

“When we talk about HIV or substance abuse or mental health issues, at the core there is a lot of stigma,” said Lance Toma, executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, based in San Francisco. “Not just in the A&PI community, but in a lot of different communities. And that drives an epidemic like HIV.”

In response, the Center started the Banyan Tree Project—a national social marketing campaign to stop HIV/AIDS-related stigma in Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) communities, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In support of their goal of encouraging acceptance among A&PIs living with HIV/AIDS, the Banyan Tree Project established National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in 2005.

The concept of ‘face’ is an idiomatic expression meaning prestige, honor, or reputation that is deeply rooted in Asian culture and is often linked to an individual’s sense of self-worth. Often the shame and stigma associated with HIV prevents A&PIs from discussing issues surrounding sex and AIDS openly. For fear of judgment, or to ‘save face,’ they remain silent. As a result, many A&PIs at risk of or living with HIV avoid getting tested or accessing the healthcare they need to stay healthy.

To overcome this reticence, the Banyan Tree Project uses storytelling to educate people about how stigma affects the community through its "Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community" initiative, which invites A&PI’s to watch videos about people in the community who have survived HIV and empowered themselves by sharing their experiences. In providing an open forum that increases acceptance in the community, the Banyan Tree Project hopes to create a judgment-free environment where A&PIs living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS are comfortable accessing testing and health services, including treatment, care, and support.

The Banyan Tree Project’s mission to reduce AIDS-related stigma through communication and respect is reflected in this year’s National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day theme, “Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV for me, for you, for everyone.” On Monday, May 19, organizations around the country dedicated to providing HIV/AIDS services to A&PIs will host events in their communities to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS-related stigma.

To view the inspirational “Taking Root” videos and to find information about National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day events in your area, visit the Banyan Tree Projects website by clicking here.