Wednesday, January 5, 2011

'It's Never Just HIV' Ad Campaign Oversimplifies the Issue - Sean Strub on HuffPo

via Huffington Post, by Sean Strub

If the NYC Department of Health pursued a campaign to combat transmission of HPV, does anyone think they would, for a moment, consider using a close-up image of a horribly diseased vagina? 
Excerpt 1:

I think this advertising campaign is terrible, mostly because it may contribute to further spread of the virus. The only good it has accomplished is that it has provided a brief moment when a few more people are thinking about and paying attention to HIV-prevention issues. That is an opportunity that I hope we will not waste.

Supporters of these ads claim HIV prevention has been a failure, and they are angry that the epidemic has disappeared from the media and fallen off the list of priorities for LGBT organizations and others who once were leaders in the fight against AIDS.

I share that anger. It is profoundly frustrating, disempowering and, quite frankly, depressing to see so many one-time activists, caring friends and neighbors, concerned journalists, political and public policy leaders disappear like a puff of smoke once combination therapy brought a relative cure to those with the privilege of healthcare access.

Excerpt 2:

In 1983, very early in the epidemic, Joseph Sonnabend, MD, famously and courageously said, "the rectum is a sexual organ and it deserves the respect a penis gets and a vagina gets." Eric Rofes, Walt Odets and other pioneering thinkers about gay male health and sexuality have subsequently explored similar themes.

I couldn't help but think of this when I saw the close-up image of a man's anus, covered in cancerous lesions, in the NYC DOH ad. Anal cancers are preceded by genital warts, which are caused by strains of HPV, the Human Papiloma Virus. Last year, 4,000 women in the U.S. died of cervical cancer; in virtually every case the cancer was caused by HPV.

If the NYC Department of Health pursued a campaign to combat transmission of HPV, does anyone think they would, for a moment, consider using a close-up image of a horribly diseased vagina?

The bodies and sexuality of gay and bisexual men are seen as dangerous and our sexuality as threatening. We are so little respected that it is acceptable to show an exceptionally intimate part of a gay man's body, one visibly riddled with cancerous lesions, and put it on television as a tool to frighten us.
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