Good to Know: Jack Mackenroth, one of the most vocal activists in the US fighting for HIV awareness

By Yair Oded

Published Nov 3, 2019 at 11:42 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Despite considerable progress made in some parts of the world regarding HIV awareness and treatment, the epidemic continues to impact tens of millions of people globally. In the US alone, over 10,000 people die of AIDS complications each year. To a great extent, it is a prevalent lack of education and lingering stigmas around HIV that perpetuate the virus’ spread.

Jack Mackenroth, an American model, fashion designer, adult film actor, and reality TV star has been one of the most vocal HIV activists in the US, opening up about his status on national television and raising awareness of the issue long before HIV was discussed in mainstream spheres. Screen Shot spoke to Mackenroth about his journey as an HIV activist and mentor, and how social media and the adult film industry impact his activism.

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HIV is sexually transmitted (primarily), so I address it in a sexy way. I’ve been HIV positive and undetectable for 29 years. Hopefully I can be an example that HIV does not make you “less than”. It is not shameful and if you are diagnosed early and get on meds, most likely, you will live a totally normal life. This is also a reminder that you can’t tell someone’s HIV status by looking at them. Everyone should know their HIV status and in MY opinion if you are negative, in a high risk population, and sexual active you should be on PrEP. If you are positive get on meds ASAP and get undetectable. U=U. Undetectable means you CAN NOT transmit HIV to another person. There are LOTS of us poz guys out there. Yes I know I’m privileged and lucky to have access to care. Statistically I should be dead. It’s gravely unfortunate that everyone does not have access to PrEP or treatment. Poz peeps—Reject the shame. You are not less attractive. You are not less desirable. You are not less. #fuckstigma #activist #activism #hiv #aids #poz #stigma #access #youdontgettojudgeme #longtermsurvivor #boobies PS This is not a post about condoms. So if you want to mention those please don’t. Also I’m sure someone will bring up “but what about other STIs?” Well most of them are also contracted orally so unless you are using condoms to suck dick (which you aren’t), your argument is weak. This is a post about HIV. Stay on topic. So that’s my bit of activism for today. Now back to posting gratuitous ass pix.

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1. How did your personal experience lead you to become publicly vocal about HIV issues?

I was diagnosed [as HIV positive] in 1990, but I actually seroconverted in 1989. I was 20. Back then everyone was dying very quickly, so I just assumed I’d be dead in a few years. I’ve always been a realist and I don’t really keep secrets, so I told my close friends that same day. The event that really gave me a public platform was disclosing my positive status on Project Runway. I was on season 4 and it was the height of the show’s popularity. I made a very conscious decision to speak about it on the show, and I basically became the US HIV poster boy overnight. I was on tons of TV programs and magazine covers. It was big news because it was 2008 and people had pretty much stopped talking about AIDS.

2. What were some of the early forms of HIV activism you initiated or took part in?

I had always volunteered since my diagnosis. I delivered meals to people who were homebound. I did AIDS fundraisers and events like that. It just really exploded after appearing on national, and then international, television. I also think that just being vocal and visible is a very powerful form of activism.

3. How do the internet and social media impact your activism?

That’s a great question. I was immersed in the HIV media culture, and used to do a ton of media and share it on my platforms. But it was exhausting and I wasn’t getting paid for my time. I do think it was, and is, really important to publicly show someone who is HIV+ for 30 years and still doing really well. Apparently, if you Google ‘HIV’ my name comes up fairly quickly, so I still get a ton of outreach, mainly from newly diagnosed guys from around the world. Often they are freaking out because they think they’re the only ones.

4. In what ways do you support HIV positive people who reach out to you?

I take my role as an HIV mentor quite seriously. You have to understand—I was only 19 when I seroconverted and there was really no help for me. I’m sure I have some form of PTSD from it all. I had a partner die in 1996. Many friends died quickly. It was hideous. So if someone I don’t know seems to need help—I feel an obligation. I have FaceTimed with people I don’t know to just talk. For some, I am the first person they have ever told. I think it’s a relief to just let go of the secret and ask questions without fear of judgement. I try to calm their fears and make sure they get access to meds immediately. I used to keep letters and emails from people. I know I’ve stopped at least a dozen people from committing suicide.

5. Do you find a difference in attitude among HIV positive men depending on the region or country they’re from?

Unfortunately very much so. I don’t always know what policies are in place or what HIV laws could affect the individual. So I’m sensitive to that. Did you know that not disclosing your positive HIV status before sexual behaviour is still a felony in about 30 states in the US? If convicted, you are out on the sex offenders list forever. The only effect that law creates is that people don’t get tested. Because you can’t lie if you don’t know. So people still die of AIDS in this county—about 10,000 people a year—when it’s totally manageable. And that’s after we know that if you are HIV+ and undetectable that you cannot transmit HIV. So, I try to discern what resources they have in their country and go from there.

6. Tell us a bit about your career as an adult film star. What platforms do you use, and how does it tie to your HIV activism?

Earlier this year I announced I’d be stepping away from HIV activism because I was fatigued and I just needed a break. I started in the adult industry on Only Fans and Just For Fans to make money while I go back to school, and because my social media followers kept begging me to. I have zero judgements around sex and nudity, so I figured what the hell. Unexpectedly, that became another avenue for visibility. Uneducated people didn’t understand I could have sex without condoms with no risk of transmitting HIV. So it spawned a lot of conversations. I am planning a project with all our HIV+ performers later this year and that will also do a lot to educate. One of the most common comments I get from newly diagnosed [people] is that they are scared to have sex or they don’t feel sexy. That’s silly. I know it’s a shock at first, but HIV+ guys are often the safest as we get our blood-work done most frequently.

7. What do you believe the role of the adult film industry should be in HIV activism?

Honestly, I think they should take a much larger role. But the stigma is still very real. Many of the studios are owned by “straight” parent companies and they just don’t get it. The testing laws are antiquated. Many people look up to adult performers and if they were open about their status it could make a huge impact.

8. What stigmas and misconceptions about HIV still linger, and why do you think that is?

The ignorance I encounter on a daily basis is shocking and saddening. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we have also regressed in some ways. People don’t understand what undetectable means. They don’t trust PrEP. They assume that you’re a whore and that you deserved it.

9. Where do you think needs to be the focus of HIV activism now, and what do you envision for yourself in the future as an HIV activist?

I really think the message of early testing and early medicating needs to be common knowledge. We need global universal healthcare. We all know Big Pharma and the healthcare system are corrupt, and are profiting off of sick people. It’s disgusting. They should be ashamed. I will continue to speak openly and guide those who need my help. Visibility is essential. If every HIV positive person came out today, I think the world would be shocked. We are everywhere. It’s much more comfortable to keep it to yourself, but you may be stopping one person from killing themselves by speaking your truth. Be brave.

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