Friday, May 7, 2010

Hateful "He's the One" Campaign Demonizes Gay Men with HIV

UPDATE - the site has just been pulled down. Still worth a discussion, no? But, it continues to live on the back of this week's Windy City Times.

[via diego de la noche and amigos]

Okay, we're mad. There is a new Illinois HIV prevention campaign that is based on fear and portrays gay men with HIV as demons. Are we back in the nightmare 80's, without the Flock of Seagulls hairdos?

"He's the one" launched a few weeks ago, and to anyone that was paying attention, it looked like a come-on for a new hook-up site. The ads encouraged people to sign up to win an iPad - but otherwise revealed nothing more. Then, this week, the rest of the campaign was unveiled - "He's the one, that could infect you."

Real nice.

So - it not only further stigmatizes those of us living with HIV it does nothing to help people understand the context in which new infections are most likely to occur.

Here is what is known:

People who don't know their HIV status have more unprotected sex compared to those who know they are positive.

A large percentage of new infections happen  between people when one is experiencing acute infection.

Similarly, many new infections occur in the context of relationships, between main sex partners. A study published in 2009 showed that  approximately 2/3 of new infections among gay men happen within relationships, due to "a higher number of sex acts with main partners, more frequent receptive roles in anal sex with main partners, and lower condom use during anal sex with main partners."

This stupid, hateful campaign tells you none of this, elucidates NADA. It just tries to scare the hell out of you regarding  that next hot (sinister) trick who might just do you very, very wrong.

What do you think? Are we on point here? Is this sort of campaign helpful in any way?

 [current windy city times - back cover, full page ad]


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks for taking them to task over this ill-advised campaign.

    Mark S. King

  2. Why was this even created? What is the point? To scare the sh*t out of gay men? Did they not ask some people "hey what do you think of this campaign?" Obviously they did not ask anyone who is positive. Ads like this stigmatize those who are HIV positive and makes it harder for people to to be honest, open and upfront about their status. It also scares negative people into not feeling comfortable exploring a relationship with those that are positive. As an HIV Activist I can't even express my level of frustration and anger at the immense amount of ground we lost on advocacy work and de-stigmatization of those living with HIV because of this dangerous and discriminatory advertisement. WAKE UP IDPH!!! Or at the very least - consult with people who know what the f**K they are doing. You obviously do not.

  3. I literally gasped when I saw this ad, and I was one of those who signed up for the contest. I felt hoodwinked. This is what they fund, but they can't seem to be able to reimburse on time the ASOs and CBOs for the successful state-funded prevention and education programs that currently are being conducted. I have two words...FOCUS GROUP.

  4. My question is, did anyone win the iPad that the site reportedly was giving away? Now I wish I HAD visited the website!

  5. That front page may be down, but the page that it led to "get tested illinois" is still up, with no indication whatever of who is funding it or sponsoring it.

  6. I think it does help. Sorry to say this, but people tend to learn better when afraid. You can tell someone something over and over again, but it never seems to stick until you hit them with the information in a way that could shatter their way of life. To me, they are just trying to get it through to people in a different way, and non socialogical minded gays will probably respond well to it.

  7. I called the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) this morning and they told me in no uncertain terms that, before this ad went out, they told the creator of it (not IDPH) that they did not support it and that they did not want their name attached to it. The creator of the ad used IDPH's name without authorization. IDPH agrees that the ad is unacceptable. The phone number on the online ad rings once to the number so the creator of the ad can track it and then the call is automatically forwarded the the State of Illinois AIDS/HIV & STD Hotline (800-243-2437). We have gotten complaints on the Hotline about the ad. To find a complete state-wide listing of testing sites in IL go to

  8. The more I think about it the more I think it really is like frankenstein, this externalization of fear and judgment as articulated in this composite frankenstein character, and just like the story the villagers or the authors of this campaign are the real monsters

  9. Yes another example of a disgusting and seriously misguided campaign that is more effective at increasing stigma againt poz people than any other purported goal it might have... Seems like at least an annual thing. How many of these crap campaigns have we seen over the years? Recently, a French HIV organisation developed ads showing people having sex with giant 10-foot scorpions and tarantulas, equating it with having sex with someone who is positive. Charming. Another one from a few years back showed people fucking in a graveyard, their names on the tombstones above their heads. Lovely.

    I recall all too well when I worked for a national AIDS org that when we would sit down with a communications firm to plan our annual AIDS Awareness Campaign, the first thing we'd tell them is NOT to bring back any concepts that stigmatised positive people -- nothing that portrayed them as vector of disease or people to fear or avoid. And guess what. Year after year... they'd bring back any number of concepts that did just that. At least we had the sense to reject them out of hand and NOT hire them the next year! Too bad that didn't happen in this case...

  10. This is a dreadful campaign. As you point out, it demonises gay men with HIV/AIDS. It also renders relationships between gay men, with/without HIV/AIDS as nothing more than dangerous dances of death. It asks people to ignore a whole history of campaigns around safe sex which acknowledge the realities of sexual relationships.

    This is a retrograde and vicious campaign. I'm shocked that any ad company would think this was a worthwhile strategy, but I'm even more appalled that any health agency would let this pass. This city has a fair number of AIDS activists within the community - were any of them consulted? Or is there now a subset of queers who actually think that this kind of scare tactic is a worthwhile strategy?

    The ad appears to have disappeared from the website, but its effects as a remaining print ad will linger. Whoever is/was behind this campaign needs to step up, apologise, and craft an entirely new and nuanced ad campaign.

    So much else to say - but I'll stop for now.

    Yasmin Nair

  11. When I saw the ad around town I thought it was a dating site. It wasn't until I saw it in print that I discovered what it was about. Of course I was mortified.

    So what's the history here? How did this even make it out of the boardroom?

    We deserve an explanation.

  12. Ps : @Marc-André: The French campaign is old, at the beginning of 2005,it was only a prototype.This sorganization fortunately did'nt keep it and now is engaged on gay men's health.

    Yes The American Campaign "He's the one" stigmatises positive people, particularly gay men. Yes it's a reactionary and hateful campaign.
    Eric Rofes was absolutely right when he spoke in"Gay bodies Gay selves that "the most pernicious consequence of AIDS was the way it re-pathologized homosexuality..." with an intense demonization of gay men.
    In 2010 this American campaign is trying to reactive these dangerous views about gay men and positive gay men . Why ?


  13. Where is there an archive of the content?... at

    A good example of a bad example!

  14. I understand a lot of the point made here, but what I'm not hearing is what would have been an effective/provoking succinct way to say: If you have unprotected sex with other men you are at higher risk of contracting HIV.

    Effective advertising says a lot with very little.

    Maybe the wording should have said: He probably doesn't know his status - do you?

  15. As Senior Health Strategist at Online Buddies, Inc. (parent company of DList, Manhunt, ManhuntCares & Manhunt Daily), we too were approached to promote this campaign. After evaluating the content and messaging, we formally requested reports related to formative research and community involvement for this campaign. The firm refused to provide the information and we did not promote the campaign. We immediately alerted our Chicago-based health partners (Howard Brown and AIDS Foundation of Chicago) as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    In my opinion both the Illinois Department of Health and the CDC should be monitoring campaigns such as these. My questions, whatever happened to the HIV material's review process and how are online campaigns except?

  16. Have any of our usual health advocates in this niche of this medium attempted to engage in discourse with any of the key folks involved about what's problematical with it? An important principle of health advocacy is to foment discourse about topics that for others present difficulty.

  17. >"Okay, we're mad. There is a new Illinois HIV prevention campaign that is based on fear and portrays gay men with HIV as demons."

    some of them are. some of them are normal human beings. some of them are vengeful. gay male life is not all lollipopland. everything doesn't end happily. and there are gay men who are propagating the hiv epidemic just like there are heterosexual males and females who are out to do the same thing that happened to them. there are court cases about it. people should stop the nonsense about how this is paranoia. somebody did something to them so they're going to get even. so the person who gave it to them died and so they'll give it to somebody else. are there links around the web about such cases? are they hard to find? let's take a look...

  18. HE'S the one who could infect you? How about YOU are the one who could take the infection FROM somebody else, whether they know they have it or not? That would be hit too close to home, and involve the person taking responsibility for their own behavior.

  19. Notice that the one message supporting this is one of the few anonymous post

    As for me, when I first saw this ad, I was intrigued. Worse than stigmatizing us, it's wrong & vile

  20. Where I don't necessarily agree with the Frankengay image, I do think people need some scaring. Have you seen Manhunt, and adam4adam lately. There's a lot of scary behavior openly being offered and pursued there. Just an opinion.

  21. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. Sometimes a little scare tactic is just what the doctor ordered. I think something like this would prompt even the most stubborn gays into acting and as their site declares, make testing a routine. I'm gay and didnt bash an eyebrow. I think there are some of us who get over sensitive and we need to grow a pair...(pun intended).

  22. I found it on google and I'm notconvinced by their arguments :

    "he is the one
    The suspense is now over. For the past four weeks, advertisements have been appearing throughout Illinois with various images and the website A visit to the site would tell people to register for a promotion and to check back May 3. The “tease” portion of the advertising campaign ran from April 5th through May 2nd and included Guerilla/Out of Home, digital and print advertising. During that time frame, captured nearly 500 email addresses and received over 3,000 unique visitors and over 35,000 hits for it’s website.
    The full campaign launched Monday, May 3rd. This campaign involves new creative for all of the prior media options, plus adds statewide radio and TV into the mix. The new TV campaign turns the “He’s the one” campaign into the “He’s the one that could infect you” campaign.
    The effort was spearheaded by Evan Gordon, President/CEO of ESG Enterprises, LLC on behalf of their client Diverse Communications, a grantee of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Gordon, a 30-year media and marketing veteran said “this was a great opportunity to do something that will produce dynamic results towards the ultimate goal of reducing the number of new HIV infections throughout Illinois”.
    The campaign will run through June 27th and has already produced outstanding results. Gordon stated “ the main objective is to drive traffic to the website, a site we created for Diverse for an earlier project”. Gordon continued, “ in the first three days of the campaign we achieved more unique visits to the site than it received the entire month of April. Furthermore, the site received over 10,000 hits in its first three days, which is more than double what it received in April and over 2,800% higher than the same three day period in the prior week.”
    ESG Enterprises is a full service media and marketing agency and the parent company to the Hispanic marketing agency HISPANICITY, LLC, and LGBT focused agency Mary Media and Marketing, LLC. ESG Enterprises also operates social networks—the place for Latinos and their amigos and – Connecting Positive People."

    Xo, Sylvie

  23. Sylvie - it is very interesting that this news item now seems to have disappeared. Did you find this at

  24. @Diego de la noche : Yes I found it on pinkmag. com by a research with (I'm A French activist)when Jim Pickett shared this article. I found it by the "cache" from ("cached" in English). Today i'ts not possible to find it (I saved it on my computer on word file.)


  25. It's kind of ironic that the goal of the ad campaign (which is to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS) was accomplished not by the campaign itself, but by the overwhelming negative reaction to it!

    So its not thanks to the ad agency, but to the bloggers (like LifeLube) and others who are keeping this discussion alive and relevant, and appealing.

    Can bloggers like us get a cut of the money?

  26. what is the name of the agency or individual funded by the state to do this project? Names please. Is this person or persons still out there? Who is it?

  27. Here is a link to an article that answers those questions anon


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