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The Washington Blade
Outrageous outreach? 'HIV is a gay disease' ad campaign sparks heated controversy
Zack Hudson
October 20, 2006
Washington Blade - October 20, 2006

Despite sharp criticism from some fellow AIDS service organizations, the creators of an edgy HIV awareness campaign defend their work as needed to shake gay men out of complacency surrounding the disease.

Much of the controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center's month-long campaign is focused on a statement in print advertisements, which reads, "HIV is a gay disease." "We tested and it and showed it to a lot of people. And we knew that it would stimulate a reaction. That was our intent. That was really one of the whole reasons behind this campaign, is to get gay men thinking and talking again about HIV," said Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

The agency has spent about $50,000 promoting its web site, OwnItEndIt.org, using billboards in addition to print ads, Key said.

The print ads appeared in local L.A. gay and lesbian publications like Frontiers. The billboards in West Hollywood do not carry the "HIV is a gay disease" headline, a crucial fact which Key, who is gay, said has been omitted in media coverage of the campaign.

Key blames much of the controversy on what he labeled as misreporting by the L.A. Times and the Associated Press, both of which covered the campaign and the ensuing controversy.

BUT CRITICS OF the campaign say the ads are ill-conceived, regardless of their target audience.

"I think promoting more responsibility in the gay community is a good thing. I don't think this is the way to do it," said Michael Weinstein, president of the L.A. based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

After declaring HIV to be a gay disease, the print ads acknowledge in smaller type that "diseases don't have sexual orientations," but note that "in Los Angeles more than 75 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are gay or bisexual men of all races and ethnicities." Weinstein, who is gay, countered the campaign's assertion by offering a broader view of the AIDS epidemic.

"I think it's wrong to look at AIDS from the vantage point of one's city or one's region. The face of AIDS on a global basis is heterosexual, it's female, it's black," he said.

Both the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation offer HIV testing and services.

ANOTHER DRAWBACK of the campaign is that it is being used by anti-gay detractors to stuff rhetorical cannons trained on gay rights and health issues, Weinstein said.

"I've already seen it on a right wing web site saying 'We've been telling you it's a gay disease, they've admitted it,'" he said.

A story titled "California Homosexual Organization Admits HIV/AIDS is a Gay Disease," which originated on LifeSite.com, a Canadian evangelical ministry web site, has made the rounds to other conservative sites like Free Republic.com and Conservative Life. The story paints a picture of "homosexual activists" finally admitting that HIV and AIDS are diseases "predominantly generated among homosexual men." Key argued that the ads are needed to get gay men to shed complacency over HIV and AIDS.

"You can't do anything about it until you acknowledge that it's a problem, and something that's still devastating our community," he said.

www.aegis.org