Before being asked to join Impulse Group, Michael Eisman’s initial perception of the organization was pretty negative. “They were essentially a party planning committee in my view.” It was a criticism that had been echoed by other advocates for men’s health and HIV services. But Impulse Group has grown and changed since its early days. The organization now produces short educational films, hosts community forums on issues important to the health and lives of gay and bisexual men and is working hard to change the way our community talks about HIV.
What is the mission of Impulse Group?
Impulse is an HIV prevention and advocacy group that targets groups and demographics less likely to be receptive to traditional messaging. Of course, this is not a direct quote from our mission statement but rather what our mission is to me.
Why did you decide to get involved with Impulse, and what is your role?
In April I was approached by the vice president of Impulse, Kevin Pakdivichit, about coming on board to help develop educational material and advise on ways to strengthen Impulse's advocacy material. In the last year, Impulse has been focused on changing the perception that it was a party planning group. I had previously worked with another advocacy group, and Kevin knew that I had an interest in the science side of advocacy. Since then my role has evolved multiple times to include event planning and campaign development, and I still dabble in developing educational material. My current title is Director of Community Outreach.
Impulse Group recently hosted a community forum on PrEP [Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a pill taken by high-risk HIV-negative men to prevent the spread of HIV]. Why did you decide to take on this important issue?
Actually, I was initially the person in the group who pushed for an event on PrEP because the group itself was so incredibly divided about personal feelings on it. Part of my role is to lead discussions at our board meetings on trending topics in the world of advocacy. At one of our meetings in early July, I created a thought exercise where the group had to argue the pros and cons of PrEP from the perspective of a serodiscordant relationship and a highly promiscuous young gay male. We found very quickly that there were some opposing and passionate views in our own ranks. In the following days—through group discussions on email threads and Facebook—we decided that we needed to have a town hall meeting and get the community involved in the conversation.
What was the reaction from the community?
We had overwhelmingly positive reactions to the event. The most common themes in people's comments were that this conversation desperately needed to occur, and that they were shocked that we would have such a neutral position, considering our affiliation with AHF [Ed. Note: The public position of AHF with regard to PrEP has been vociferous skepticism.]
During the PrEP talk you also premiered a video titled Knowing, about a sero-discordant relationship (wherein one partner in living with HIV and the other is not). What can you tell us about it?
Knowing evolved from a concept that I had been developing at Impulse since day one. I wanted to make people aware of various issues surrounding HIV, but make it relatable and entertaining to watch. I knew I wanted to target the young gay community, and I knew that I wanted it to be edgy and sexy. I believe in one of the very first planning sessions for the video I said, “I want this to be a PSA, but a PSA that guys will jerk off to.” I feel that for years the messaging around HIV has been that of fear tactics, and our goal was to move the conversation past that and talk about real life.
Our plan is to develop an entire series, but we chose serodiscordancy as the first topic because the question was coming up so much about how safe a serodiscordant relationship is. We based the outcome of our plot on the medical statistics regarding such relationships where one partner is positive but his viral load is undetectable. Our hope is that maybe we inspired those in the dating scene to understand the steps that need to be taken to take a chance on love, or even just lust, regardless of status.
I want to note that John Saint-Denis, Chris Rallo and their team at the Advisorie Group took the concept well beyond what I had envisioned. They really brought the characters to life and created a story that touched our audience in a way we didn't know we could. We could not have done this without them.
Learn more about the Impulse Group at impulsegrp.org.
Learn more about PrEP at PrEPfacts.org.