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Trading Faces

Trading Faces


They might not be as valuable as a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card or come with a stick of bubble gum, but the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin hopes its new series of trading cards featuring the agency's Bag Boyz volunteers will go a long way toward urging young men to protect themselves against HIV. The cards are modeled after traditional baseball cards and contain not only personal information about the guys pictured but also safer-sex information about HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention as well as a toll-free number for referrals to local testing centers, according to David Frazer, ARCW's associate director of prevention services. They also include playful and sometimes downright sexy images of the volunteers, which Frazer says makes the outreach effort resonate with the sexually active young men the agency is trying to reach. 'It's fun for the Bag Boyz to see themselves on the cards and get requests to autograph them,' Frazer says of the volunteer group, named after the satchels filled with HIV-prevention information and condoms that they carry into bars and other venues in several Wisconsin cities. 'It really boosts the celebrity of the boys, and they can use that celebrity to share prevention messages.' Deon Young, a 23-year-old Milwaukee resident and a member of the Wisconsin HIV Prevention Community Planning Council, says he doesn't even mind appearing on a trading card that mentions some of the nastier symptoms of STDs. His picture appears on a card with the tagline, 'Burning, itching rash?' 'At first I was like, 'I get the rash, and the other guys get something sexy?'''' he says with a laugh. 'But after a while people got to know me, and we could laugh together over it. And in the end the important thing is that you're educating people.' On a typical night of outreach work, Young and the other Bag Boyz in Milwaukee will visit most of the city's gay bars, where they initiate conversations with patrons, hand out trading cards, and distribute as many as 1,200 packets containing condoms, personal lubricant, referral information, and educational material about HIV and other STDs. 'It is a nice change of pace to have people coming from the community'their peers'to talk with them about protecting themselves,' Young says, noting that he believes many men have grown weary of traditional safer-sex campaigns. 'People really respond to the personal contact.' Frazer says the trading card initiative, which was launched in late 2005, replaces one of the most popular outreach tools the Bag Boyz used'a provocative annual calendar illustrated with photos of the volunteers. 'Now we have two new cards coming out every month,' he says, 'with new and different messages on each one. That really helps us to be able to keep approaching people and even to build some hype around encouraging people to collect all the cards'and to learn how to protect themselves and their partners.'

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