Jason Wu wearing the “Distance Yourself From Hate” mask.

GMHC and theCollectiveShift have launched the “Distance Yourself From Hate” campaign with help from Jason Wu, Diane Kruger, Rosie Perez, Cecily Strong and other forces in the arts, fashion and entertainment.

More than 40 voices will be featured in the PSAs and cause-related marketing campaign that is designed to fight prejudice and discrimination. The “Distance Yourself From Hate” message is also being featured on $30 face masks designed by Wu. Proceeds will benefit GMHC and its new initiatives to support those in need throughout New York. With the help of GMHC, Harlem United, an HIV and AIDS services organization, and Lantern Community Services, a group that fights homelessness, will receive masks to distribute and food assistance.

The campaign’s theme was initially developed in late March in response to discrimination against Asian people that was sparked by some political leaders during the height of the pandemic, Wu said. That message has taken on greater meaning in recent weeks following protests nationwide calling for justice in the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless Black people who have been killed or brutalized by law enforcement.

Wu, a GMHC board member for the past five years, said, “This has all been a series of very unfortunate events. Yet, they needed to be pointed out and people have stood united during this time to make a statement. I feel like it’s also time for me to speak about what we do at GMHC and this new campaign.”

Launching Wednesday, the ongoing initiative will feature an assortment of bold-faced names in the weeks ahead. Mathew Knowles, Bebe Neuwirth, Mj Rodriguez, Norman Reedus, Latrice Royale, Tommy Ton and others will share their insights about what “Distance Yourself From Hate” means to them. Wu said, “This is not a scripted series. When I recorded my video, I talked about how my mother always told me to keep being a student and to never stop learning. There is just so much more for me to learn but there is a lot for me to educate others about as well, as I continue my learning process. That’s what this means to me. Not to do nothing, but to use love and not hate, to unite us as a whole.”

Highlighting how diverse the group of participants are, Wu said, “It’s quite inclusive because we come from the LGBTQ community where we have always been about inclusion. We felt this was a great time to spread that message and also offer our support to a greater group of marginalized communities.” He added this is the first time in 40 years that GMHC is offering its services to more than the group’s HIV-positive clients. Fabien Baron designed the “Distance Yourself From Hate” logo.

To many, Wu is recognized as an international designer, whose clients include former First Lady Michelle Obama. But he opened up about some of the challenges and discrimination he has faced. “Listen, this is the first time that I am speaking out about this. Growing up, I didn’t speak English until I was 10. I was in boarding school and I was clearly gay and artistic. I played with dolls, which is why my parents immigrated. In Taiwan once I hit puberty, I was ridiculed for not being interested in manly things. Throughout high school, I was awkward and I didn’t have friends. My cultural differences and sexual preference stood in the way of me having an easy childhood. I suffered in most of my teens for having a lack of an identity. My identity was what I wanted to do, yet it wasn’t socially acceptable,” he said. “I grew up in the Eighties where boys don’t play with dolls in Asia. That’s changed now. I grew up in America in schools, where people who were great at sports reigned supreme. I was an artistic kid, who was gay and out. The amount of discrimination I received in my teen years has made me a stronger person, but I didn’t get here easily.”

Unlike now, high schools and middle schools did not have gay alliances when Wu was growing up. As “the only Chinese kid throughout high school and middle school, I couldn’t relate,” he said.

The designer continued, “I came to New York all by myself when I was 17. I arrived the week of September 11. I was nervous, homesick and scared. But I wanted to start a career. When I left school to start my career, I met more challenges than successes — things people don’t see. People see a lot of my successes in the headlines because that’s what people like to publish. But behind-the-scenes, there were so many times we didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do to keep the business afloat for years. We were always going [up] against the bigger guys. I’ve always been very fortunate to have amazing supporters and experiences. But the amount of sacrifices, struggles and hard work that I had to put in is something that I don’t often talk about. I do believe everyone has to go through their fair share in order to succeed. I don’t look at it as, ‘Woe is me.’ But now that I do have a platform, I do need to speak out for others, who may not be heard or who may not be able to have their voices heard as loudly as mine.”

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