Casey House was founded on activism and continues to embrace its roots to make the humanity of people more visible than their HIV.

In 2017, we started bringing awareness to the issue of HIV stigma with a multi-year awareness campaign and the call to action #smashstigma.

In addition to breaking down misconceptions and reigniting conversation around HIV stigma, the campaigns also serve as a way to empower those living with HIV to open a dialogue about some of the challenges they encounter living with the disease aside from physical health.

Casey House’s #smashstigma campaigns bring attention to misinformation about HIV and the impact it has on those who live with it. Each campaign is grounded in data, which quantifies the scale of what people living with HIV know all too well—that stigma is pervasive and widespread.

Casey House made a commitment to #smashstigma

Would you eat a meal prepared by someone living with HIV? Casey House issued this challenge with June’s HIV+ Eatery, after 53% of Canadians said they would not knowingly eat a meal prepared by someone who is HIV+.

To debunk the myth that HIV can be transmitted through food, we created the world’s first HIV+ restaurant in 2017: a three-night pop-up where people living with HIV prepared the meals. Celebrity chef Matt Basile and his Fidel Gastro’s team provided the expertise to create a dining experience to remember. The meal was served family style, creating an intimate setting where guests could engage in conversation and unite against stigma.

The restaurant garnered worldwide attention. The engaging and almost humorous advertising sparked curiosity while forcing people to think about stigma: pictures of the chefs in confident poses wearing aprons with slogans such as “Kiss the HIV+ Cook” and “I got HIV from eating pasta…Said no one ever.” The visuals forced the public to think critically about their perceptions connecting HIV- positive people and food.

The 14 peer chefs’ impact was incredible. The group included experienced activists and generated brand new ones, some of whom were Casey House clients. The response from both their networks and strangers was supportive and often thankful. The experience was transformative; the group bonded and has remained connected years afterwards.

June’s HIV+ Eatery and #smashstigma were envisioned in collaboration with one of Canada’s top creative agencies, Bensimon Byrne and its affiliates Narrative and OneMethod. The first #Smashstigma campaign received terrific media coverage, generating over 926 million social media impressions and more than 150 news stories worldwide, igniting discussion and allowing Casey House to engage many people in conversations about stigma. Over 730,000 Canadians were educated on social media during that first campaign.

The comments on social media were frequently uninformed, ranging from “…what about the other diseases people with HIV are prone to?” and to sometimes nasty comments like, “Look I’m sorry about the stigma but come on, this is creepy.” or “Someone cuts their finger at work and you get an epidemic… lovely. Hard pass on this one.” These comments and interactions with the general public provided plenty of opportunity for education and conversation. Our replies were thoughtful and educational:, “Eric, we hear your concerns, and are addressing them because this is the stigma we are trying to smash…” Frequently, members of the public responded to negative comments, even before had a chance to, with words to educate, cajole or shame naysayers.

The June’s HIV+ Eatery experience was filmed and turned into June’s, a short documentary by Academy Award nominated director Hubert Davis., The film captures the event’s activities, some of the previously mentioned comments and reactions, and featuresing the personal stories of the chefs who boldly stepped out to break the stigmas that surround them daily. In 2020, Casey House turned June’s HIV+ Eatery from a campaign to an annual multi-day fundraising event, which takes place the first week of March. Many of the peer chefs return year after year.

In 2018, Healing House HIV+ Spa explored the power of compassion through touch and addressed HIV stigma by offering free light-touch treatments from 18 HIV+ volunteers. Over 150 visitors discovered the true power and compassion of HIV+ hands; and 85% of participants felt more compassionate and/or understanding towards people living with HIV/AIDS.

The third iteration of #smashstigma in 2020 was a digital campaign focused on the power of pop culture to impact stigma after 65 million North Americans said they would rather their favourite TV character die than see them diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. To spur conversation and pique interest, Bensimon Byrne rewrote two iconic sitcoms, Friends and The Office, and gave a lead character HIV to showcase and amplify the stigma experienced from an HIV diagnosis. Scenes included tackling disclosure in a workplace and among friends. Alongside the two TV show episodes are six short documentaries of people living with HIV talking about their experience with stigma amongst family and friends. garnered 26,452 visits during the six-week campaign with 9,937 views of Friends and The Office episodes, and 3,318 views of testimonial videos.

While 88% of survey respondents who viewed the episodes felt more empathetic to those with HIV afterwards, there is still plenty of work to do to continue to question our negative assumptions and judgement towards people living with HIV to improve life for everyone living with HIV.

Knowing that fear fuels HIV stigma, in 2022 we created a short film from the perspective of someone who experiences the fear and anxiety it causes to shed light on the irrational fears held by the public that stem from misinformation and a lack of education about HIV and those living with it.

Others, directed by renowned filmmaker and screenwriter Paul Shkordoff, sets out to highlight the impact of judgement and what it can feel like to be haunted by stigma by employing a tense atmosphere and the emotional edginess of a thriller. While the film is a work of fiction, for people living with HIV, stigma is a series of terrible experiences that impact health and well-being. And it happens every day.

The story ends on a cliff hanger and cuts immediately to interview clips of six people speaking honestly about their life with HIV and the stigma they have faced. A professional actor living with HIV was intentionally cast to play the HIV+ protagonist, and learning this from Peter McPherson’s first words makes the transition from film to documentary particularly poignant. The six real stories from people who faced HIV stigma in their own lives and overcame it were featured alongside Others at Watch Others here.

To create buzz around the film and a narrative around fear, an integrated plan engaged the public, which included an immersive experience world film-premiere, and an international media relations outreach for traditional and social media. The reception was extremely positive, with earned media in outlets such as Toronto Star, CTV’s Your Morning, and

See how six people faced HIV stigma in their own lives and how they overcame it.

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