It’s been three weeks since we launched the My Status Is Not A Secret campaign—a new engagement platform and interview series that seeks to give a face to HIV, a condition that ultimately affects all of us in some way.
One of the faces behind the campaign is Parker Trewin, a friend and partner of Column Five and an inspiration to many others. We sat down with Parker to learn more about how the campaign came to be and his participation in the upcoming AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in June.
What’s it been like seeing My Status Is Not A Secret come to light over the past few weeks?
Scary, humbling and amazing! I’m a PR guy, so I’m used to putting others in the spotlight. It’s challenging to have such a personal experience front and center. It’s a big emotional investment made by everyone who was interviewed. We didn’t know what the reaction would be, and I’m grateful for the reaction and opportunity to be part of the discussion.
You shared your HIV positive status with Column Five CEO Jason Lankow late last year in a conversation that provided the spark for My Status Is Not A Secret. Can you tell us a bit about that conversation? What made you want to share that then?
It goes back to our first meeting at the W Hotel about two years ago. What started as a pitch for business over drinks turned into a 4-hour dinner conversation about content marketing, partners, kids, life and what motivates and inspires us. Things just clicked. It was pretty clear that we had shared a lot of the same core values, and that established a level of trust. When I decided to the AIDS/LifeCycle again, I wanted to do something special, which was raise $54K. To do that, I knew that I had to start early and be authentic with my story. Last fall, I asked a lot of people to consider donating $1,000; if I was going to do that, I had to tell them why. This included Jason. He suggested donating something different, something amazing: donating time. All of this resulted in the site that we launched three weeks ago.
Together with the Column Five team, we brainstormed on several concepts, and we decided to tackle HIV stigma head on through the website and these personal interviews. What a great gift to the community. My Status Is Not A Secret goes beyond mere fundraising to humanize the HIV experience through powerful stories—across status, gender, race, age and sexual orientation.
It’s your second year riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle; what makes this year different?
Because of My Status Is Not A Secret campaign, I’ve had to come out publicly as HIV positive. More importantly, I had to come out privately to my family. I didn’t know what to expect coming out to my parents, as my mother is 85 and my father is 93.
I meant to tell Dad when I was in Seattle over the holidays. I planned sit down with him in the hour before returning to San Francisco. When the time came, he was fast asleep, which meant my mother got the job of breaking the news. I returned to San Francisco, and I called my parents a few days later to check in. My father, who rarely speaks on the phone, broke in and said, “Parker, I just want to tell you that I support YOU; I support YOU 100%.” It was simple and powerful. I am grateful for the love and support of my family. That matters most. It’s made the ride a deeper, richer experience for me.
Is there anything or anyone that has surprised you with your story being made so public?
I had a fellow rider come up to me before a training ride and say, “You’re Parker Trewin. You know, you’re kind of famous.” Being in PR, I had thought about how this campaign would add a dimension to my personal brand, but I hadn’t really internalized that it would make me recognizable and familiar to people I hadn’t met. That’s a testimonial to how well the video was produced.
You have a fairly ambitious fundraising goal of $54,000. Why did you choose this figure?
I turned 54 in January, and the ride is 545 miles long. It is a huge goal that only a few of the over 2,500 riders will achieve, so it would also be a great personal achievement.
So, 54-years old, and 545 miles. Did you purposefully wait until you could do that, or was it just a happy coincidence?
Honestly, I didn’t even think about the 545 miles. It was pointed out to me by my rider rep, the fabulous Meredith Slater, at AIDS/LIfeCycle. So, yeah, it’s a happy coincidence.
You’ve said that “the value of a second chance at life” has been a big motivator for you to give back to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center—the two beneficiaries of AIDS/LifeCycle. How do you see these organizations—with the funds raised—offering that second chance at life for you and others?
It’s pretty simple. Without their work, I might not be alive, and I certainly would not have the same quality of life. They were fighting HIV before it even had a name. They set the earliest policy for how positive people should be treated. They crafted the position that would become the Ryan White Care Act. They spawned Pangaea, an international response to the pandemic. They established a needle exchange program that would become a global model. And they are still doing the work today, promoting alternative methods treatment and prevention that aim to reduce new HIV infections to almost zero by 2015. How do you place a value on all that they have done?
What can people do to help get you over the top and spread the message about knowing one’s HIV status and sharing it with those who matter most?
I’ve got just over $10K to raise, so my goal is within striking distance. You can help by donating at http://tofighthiv.org/goto/parkertrewin. And equally important is sharing these amazing stories at www.mystatusisnotasecret.com. Through them we hope to humanize the HIV experience and what that experience means to us all.
Watch Parker’s contribution to the documentary, Status, produced on behalf of My Status Is Not a Secret:
An intimate event and designer estate sale benefitting Parker and other AIDS/LifeCycle participants will take place on April 26th.