Gay Advocacy Groups Demand City-Sponsored Ad Be Pulled

Watch this ad currently being aired by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Disgusted at the way it depicts gay men? Or maybe you’re just happy that the ad is out there. These two views appear to sum up the reaction to the spot, titled “It’s Never Just HIV,” part of the city’s campaign against a growing sense of indifference toward what it’s like to live with HIV.

Because the spot uses stark images and stats (people with HIV are “28 times more likely to contract anal cancer”) the public reaction has been extremely dichotomous. Sumathi Reddy, a Metropolis contributor at The Wall Street Journal touched on the controversy last night, but FishbowlNY decided to go a bit deeper. We spoke to Dr. Monica Sweeney, Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, which operates under the NYC Department of Health, and Krishna Stone, Assistant Director, Community Relations for New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) about the role of media when taking on such a sensitive subject.

The fact that we are even publishing this post is what matters most to Sweeney. “Silence is no solution when the annual number of new HIV diagnoses among young MSM [men who have sex with other men] is up by 50 percent in eight years,” she says. “In developing this video spot, we tested various approaches in focus groups. It was informed by that process and by lessons learned from our successful anti-smoking efforts.” She notes that while some groups have opposed the campaign, others have supported it, such as Gay Men From African Descent.

Stone and the GMHC agree that the messages need to be out there, but she says one important factor is missing with the “It’s Never Just HIV” ad: communication. “We are more than willing to have a discussion with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene about HIV prevention campaigns that do not use ineffective scare tactics [such as this one].  We know from our almost 30 years of prevention work that scare tactics do not work.”

While explaining that she finds most of New York media to be positive when discussing HIV/AIDS, Stone says that because the media plays such a vital role in our culture, anything negative can be harmful and lead to further stereotyping.

Sweeney counters that media, even when dealing with topics like HIV/AIDS, is not responsible for people’s feelings, adding, “Not everyone is going to agree with it, but we hope they remember it. Meanwhile, the Health Department has no intention of pulling the ad or dropping the campaign.”

The ad will continue to air for two more weeks this month and will re-air next month for another two week span.