Redefining the Narrative: Karl Schmid’s +Life Reshapes the Mainstream Discourse on HIV

HIV/AIDS has been a global health concern for several decades, with millions of people affected worldwide. Alongside the physical and medical challenges, individuals living with HIV often face another daunting obstacle: stigma. HIV stigma refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and discrimination experienced by individuals associated with HIV/AIDS. It perpetuates discrimination, isolates individuals, and impedes efforts to prevent transmission and provide adequate care. Overcoming HIV stigma requires collective action, including education, awareness, advocacy, and the cultivation of compassionate communities. By challenging misconceptions, fostering understanding, and embracing those affected by HIV, we can create a society that supports and uplifts individuals living with the virus, ultimately working towards an inclusive and stigma free world. 

LIFE: Turning Positive into a Plus

In a landmark announcement on August 1, 2019, AOMedia, in collaboration with esteemed launch partner Gilead Sciences, unveiled an extraordinary multi-platform brand that aims to redefine the discourse surrounding HIV. Known as +LIFE, this groundbreaking initiative finds its inspiration in the personal journey of ABC talent Karl Schmid, who bravely shares his own experiences of living with HIV amidst a backdrop of shame and fear exacerbated by prevailing ignorance and stigmatization of the virus. With a resolute commitment to challenging societal misconceptions, +LIFE emerges as a powerful force poised to reshape public perception and usher in a new era of empathy, understanding, and acceptance. 

Karl Schmid, recognizing the significance of spreading awareness and fostering dialogue, wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to engage in an interview with our Senior Editor, Ciprian Ciobanu. 

Karl Schmid via Instagram

Ciprian Ciobanu: What was your childhood like?  

 Karl Schmid: I spent the first few years of my life growing up in Australia with two older brothers and my parents. When I was 10, my father took a job working in the Fiji Islands, and from then on we became a pretty nomadic family, living all over the world. My father is originally from Austria and my mother is from Hungary so we are a very well-traveled, mixed bunch. 

CC: What inspired you to create +Life and how did your personal experience with HIV influence your vision for the brand? 

KS: +Life was born out of the amazing response I received from people all over the world after I publicly talked about my HIV status. It started as a simple social media post of me sharing my status in support of @TheAIDSMemorial on Instagram that went viral around the world. Seeing the reaction and receiving so many personal heartfelt messages from people who shared their HIV status with me and hoped that “one day” they could share their truth inspired me to create a platform that shows what HIV really looks like in this day and age. That it’s nothing to be ashamed of and is not something that should hold anyone back from living their best, most full, and happy lives. We wanted to show people from all walks of life, all ages, all religions, and gender identities that just because you may receive an HIV diagnosis, your life doesn’t end. We also wanted to show EVERYONE that HIV can and does affect EVERYONE so stigmatizing it with out-of-date, non-science-backed beliefs has to stop! 

CC: Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges you faced in building a multi platform brand around such a stigmatized and misunderstood topic?  

KS: The biggest and toughest challenge is finding partners who want to jump on board and support financially. We have a fantastic partner in Gilead Pharmaceuticals who have helped us realize our vision and are wonderful to work with. There are many corporate entities out there who like to say they are supportive but when it comes down to it, it can be very difficult to get the financial support that we require to make sure we’re delivering the very best content we can. My partners and I have dug deep into our own pockets because we absolutely believe in what we have created and we see and hear all the positive feedback we get from people all over the world who tell us that what we are doing is so helpful and vital. 

CC: What has been the most rewarding aspect of launching +Life and raising awareness about HIV?  

KS: For me it’s connecting with people from every walk of life all over the world who watch our content. Hearing from them how a particular post or interview helped them get through a tough situation is so rewarding and encourages the whole Plus Life team to keep pushing and working harder to fight HIV stigma and to normalize the conversations around what it means to live – sorry – THRIVE with HIV. 

CC: How have you seen perceptions of HIV change over time, and what role do you see +Life playing in continuing to change attitudes and reduce stigma?  

KS: It’s a very long slow uphill battle regarding changing the mainstream’s opinions on HIV. Life-saving and game-changing science that fully supports messaging like Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) – that is to say, that if you are HIV positive and take your medication so that the virus becomes so low in your body it can not be detected by a normal test – you CAN NOT transmit the virus to a partner. This means those of us living with HIV are free to love and be loved just like anyone else. We are capable of starting healthy families with HIV- children. We do not only keep ourselves safe and healthy but also our partners. That is a win-win for everyone. Our job at Plus Life is to make sure that EVERYONE knows this important information and is encouraged to get tested, take advantage of things like PrEP, and if they test positive start treatment immediately. We also have a huge uphill climb in medical equity for all. Make sure that EVERYONE who tests positive has access to the treatment to get them to undetectable status. We have the tools right now to end HIV, we just need to change the narrative around it. 

CC: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself and others during the process of building and promoting +Life?  

KS: I would say the most surprising thing I’ve learned about myself is the fire that I have within me to make sure no one ever is made to feel how I and millions of others have felt just because we dared to be intimate with someone or perhaps used injectables. I am determined to fight HIV stigma until my last day on this planet to make sure everyone has access to care and the ability to look at themselves in the mirror after a diagnosis and see someone wonderful, lovable, sexy, and accomplished staring back at them. 

CC: Aside from your own lived experiences, how do you engage with communities that are most affected by HIV, and how do you ensure that +Life is culturally sensitive and inclusive in its messaging? 

KS: We make sure that we have and include guests that represent everyone – making sure that our audiences can see and hear themselves represented, living happily and positively is key to our mission. 

CC: What role do you see technology and social media playing in the fight against HIV stigma and discrimination, and how does +Life leverage these tools?  

KS: Technology and social media already do and will continue to play a vital role in changing people’s minds about what it means to be diagnosed and live with HIV. The immediacy of social media to reach people all over the world with entertaining, smart, accurate content which informs is vital to getting the word out. Plus Life will continue to leverage all of this technology and the tools available to continue our mission. 

CC: What advice do you have for individuals who may be struggling with HIV related stigma or shame, and how can they find support and resources? What resources did you wish existed when you first learned of your positive status?  

KS: My advice is to access therapy. There are a lot of great resources out there online and within the community that offers free services for people who are living with HIV. Finding a support group of friends, family, church members, or whatever works for you where you can fully be yourself and talk to others about what you’re going through is important. Remember, you are absolutely not alone. You can always tune into +Life @pluslifemedia to feel connected and reach out to us as well. 

CC: Looking to the future, what are your goals for +Life and how do you hope to continue positively impacting the lives of those affected by HIV?  

KS: I hope that we can build upon what we are already doing and also take it more global. Right now a lot of what we do is US based but I dream about doing more with folks and organizations from all over the world. I guess that’s the nomad in me. We would love to come and create content in Eastern Europe and throughout Asia, sharing those unique stories as well. For as unique as all of our stories are, we also all crave the simple human things in life like love, connection, happiness, and well-being. I’d love +Life to be a catalyst in helping achieve that for people all over who are living with HIV and for those who are connected to those who are. 

 

In the present day, +LIFE continues to make a profound impact, reaching audiences across various social media platforms. With a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, this innovative platform ensures its message of inclusivity and education resonates with a diverse range of individuals. Offering a dynamic lineup of engaging content, +LIFE delivers weekly programming that covers a wide array of topics. Viewers can look forward to the flagship +TALK round-table talk show, where thought leaders and advocates convene to discuss pressing issues related to HIV and stigma. Additionally, +LIFE provides captivating content centered around love and relationships, entertaining segments, enlightening discussions on medicine and nutrition, as well as inspiring explorations of spirituality. Through this comprehensive range of offerings, +LIFE strives to foster a more informed and compassionate society, igniting conversations and empowering individuals to combat HIV stigma. 

You can keep up with Karl’s work on Instagram and Twitter 

 

By Ciprian Ciobanu.

Ciprian Ciobanu is the Senior Editor for GAY45. He is ending his MA at the University of Timisoara, majoring in painting and working in mixed media. Ciobanu is researching the mechanism of the relationship between art and the trends of a given time from music, fashion and popular stories. Ciprian Ciobanu is a nominee for Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Media 2024. 

 

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