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Graphic, Frightening HIV Ad Causes Controversy

Graphic, Frightening HIV Ad Causes Controversy

A new public service advertisement released by the New York City Health and Mental Hygiene Department in early December has created significant controversy in the gay activist community.  The PSA emphasizes the dangers of HIV/AIDS, flashing statistics about increased risk of osteoporosis, a “disease that dissolves your bones,” and graphic photos of anal cancer.  Proponents say that the ad shows the dangers of HIV in an honest way, while critics have called the ad “sensationalistic” and “stigmatizing,” and have demanded that the city pull the ad from circulation.

City health officials, who have released similar PSAs about smoking, obesity and childhood poisoning, say that they’re trying to reach young people, and that these tactics are generally effective. 

“One of the points they kept making is you need to hit hard and do something to counteract the pharmaceutical ads that say having H.I.V. is a walk in the park,” Dr. Monica Sweeney, assistant commissioner of the city’s bureau of H.I.V. prevention and control, was quoted as saying.

Others disagreed.  “We know from our longstanding H.I.V. prevention work that portraying gay and bisexual men as dispensing diseases is counterproductive,” explained Marjorie Hill, chief executive of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. “Studies have shown that scare tactics are not effective.”

The H.I.V. Health and Human Planning Services Planning Council of New York wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, saying that “acknowledging [gay men's] resilience in the face of this epidemic, will be far more successful than perpetuating outdated images of sickness, dying and death.”

Although this is obviously a controversial issue, I’m more convinced by the ad’s critics, simply because the ad does seem extremely stigmatizing.  HIV is certainly a terrifying disease, and people should be aware of the potential consequences of having unprotected sex, but emphasizing terrible danger just makes people with HIV seem terrifying, rather than the disease itself.  

I’m glad that the city of New York is trying to deal with the HIV crisis with openness and honesty, but this seems like the wrong way to go about it.

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108 comments

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3:41PM PDT on Jun 20, 2011

I totally agree with Kelly M. and Doug D. I believe that abstinance and monogamy would have a tremendous effect on diminishing the numbers of HIV/AIDS victims, but I am not so foolish as to believe that everyone will follow that method either. Safe sex education is a must.

9:56AM PDT on Mar 31, 2011

Now days people react more strongly to graphics with a one liner. Sad but true.

3:27PM PST on Feb 16, 2011

No pun intended, the ad seems to use the 'scared straight' tactic.

6:33PM PST on Feb 15, 2011

I am not gay, nor male. I am an older female R.N. In the early days, I worked with a lot of infected gay men. In the decades since, advancements have been made and one can live WITH HIV, but it's no walk in the park. I do know that since it is no longer an absolute death sentence, some gays have gotten lax about protection/condoms. And perhaps, that is why NYC has emphasized young gay men, rather than picturing others with HIV.

This is a complicated issue, and sensitive. I would tend to go with the expertise of the gay community, since they live with this dread.

The purpose of the ad campaign is to reach out and help -- if it ends up stigmatizing the very people it needs to help, so that society as a whole, blames gays for this disease, then it's not an effective campaign. We certainly don't want to go back to the time of Reagan, when gays carried the brunt of the blame.

10:05AM PST on Jan 21, 2011

I don't think the ads should just target gay men. I think such ads should be seen by everybody.

11:09AM PST on Jan 15, 2011

Dr. Luc Montagnier, 2008 Nobel Prize recipient for discovering HIV: "We can be exposed to HIV many times without being chronically infected. Our immune system will get rid of the virus within a few weeks, if you have a good immune system. It’s important knowledge which is completely neglected. People always think of drugs and vaccine."

11:22PM PST on Jan 13, 2011

anything that helps in Aids awareness is necessary!

9:31AM PST on Jan 11, 2011

Why do they always target gay men?? HIV effects women and men, gay or straight. HIV is not prejudice. Get it together people!

3:25AM PST on Jan 10, 2011

The ad fails to acknowledge the HIV is no longer a "homosexual disease" and that women can become HIV positive also. Fix that, and continue to address concerns head on. If they're going to include the part about anal cancer, then include a statistic about increased uterine cancer (if that's the case) or how it can affect a pregnancy.

8:39PM PST on Jan 9, 2011

Noted

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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