By Sumathi Reddy -Two leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups want a new city-sponsored public service announcement about HIV pulled off the airwaves, calling the television commercial sensational and stigmatizing.
The graphic ad, which began airing last week, warns of the other health problems such as anal cancer and dementia that can be associated with HIV. The ad is part of a campaign by the city’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene that aims to combat complacency about the disease among gay men.
A spokesman for the department said it had no intention of dropping the ad. “While some community groups may dislike the message, others have spoken out to support it,” the department said in a statement.
But the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy group, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, say the ad creates a grim portrait of being an HIV patient, which could further stigmatize victims.
“It really paints this picture of gay men as these sort of disease-ridden vessels, and so the message is really sort of, ‘Stay away from gay men,’” said Francisco Roque, director of community health for GMHC. Roque said the ad had a “horror movie” like quality with eerie music that appeared to demonize gay men.
In a statement, the city’s Department of Health said, “Silence is no solution when the number of new HIV diagnoses among” men having sex with other men is up by more than 50% in eight years.
“In developing this video spot, we tested various approaches in focus groups,” said the statement. “The spot was informed by that process and by lessons learned from our successful anti-smoking efforts. It was also carefully vetted for technical accuracy.
The Health Department trumpeted the media campaign in a release last week, saying the video spots “promote condom use and partner reduction” in the gay community. The release said while HIV infection is no longer a “death sentence,” living with HIV “is still no picnic.”
The ad will run on cable and broadcast television for two weeks this month, and again for two weeks in January.