Charles Jacobs and Trevor Kleinhans.

A former Mr Gay South Africa finalist has launched a remarkable initiative to find a new HIV positive role model.

The “Search for the Next Positive Hero SA” will be launched on 1 December, World Aids Day, by Charles Jacobs, supported by Trevor Kleinhans.

In 2011, Jacobs was nominated as a finalist in the Mr Gay South Africa competition. Having lived with the HIV virus for nine years, he made the bold move to disclose his status publicly – the first time any finalist had done so – to challenge the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS head on.

“People living with HIV often say the stigma they encounter is worse than the disease itself,” Jacobs explained. “That stigma is exactly what prolongs the journey from denial to acceptance for anyone who is HIV positive, and is what we aim to change with the search.”

In 2012, Jacobs was selected by the Positive Heroes NGO as their first Positive Hero. This inspired him to create Change the Stigma Project with the mission of searching for more positive role models.

“This is not a beauty pageant,” said Jacobs, “it is the exact opposite. It’s about sharing your journey that will help others accept who they are. It is about moving away from feeding HIV with fear, and filling it with hope instead.”

Kleinhans, the internationally recognised author of Secrets Make You Sick, joins the search in a patron role. Using his wide public speaking and press experience on the subjects of HIV, gay rights, sexual abuse and drug abuse, he will help spread the message of hope.

“Disclosing one’s HIV-positive status is an immensely powerful act,” Kleinhans said. “In one moment it takes everything negative that society assumes about the disease, and turns it on its head. To see a person full of vitality openly sharing their story, for someone afraid of the judgment of friends, family and the public, is quite simply life changing.”

Beginning on 1 December, contestants will be able to enter the search by visiting Finalists will be revealed in March 2015, and the public will be invited to vote for their favourite Positive Hero.

Positive Hero finalists will share their personal HIV journey via a self-made video and will select their a South African HIV charity or NPO to promote and raise funds for.

Various prizes are on offer for top placing participants. The new Positive Hero will receive a full life coaching course from New Insights Africa valued at R18 000, empowering him or her to continue to change lives and spread the message of hope.

“Stigma and discrimination has helped the spread of HIV,” said Jacobs. “It’s made people afraid to test and prevented often the most vulnerable from getting care. It’s time that the human progress in how we handle HIV/AIDS in our community begins to match the advances being made in the research lab. Our message is simple. Do you have the courage to be South Africa’s Next Positive Hero?”

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