New HIV ad campaign hits a nerve

BY Advocate.com Editors

November 09 2002 12:00 AM ET

San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project's four new ads--which feature HIV-positive men suffering with constant diarrhea, protruding stomachs or facial wasting from lipodystrophy, and night sweats--are an in-your-face attempt to portray the side effects of anti-HIV medications. "Don't get me wrong. I'm glad to be alive," each man in an ad states. "But HIV is no picnic."

The campaign is designed to counter the widely held perception among HIV-negative men that contracting HIV is no longer something of much concern. "I had an HIV-negative man tell me...it is OK to have sex with me without a condom because all you have to take is a few pills and you are fine," Keith Folger, a program manager with SAP, told the Bay Area Reporter. "We don't want to see another generation of gay men die if we can stop it."

But the ads, which appeared in the Bay Area Reporter and on city bus shelters beginning in early October, are hitting a nerve with some HIV-positive men. "Stop AIDS is running the campaign on a fear-based perspective. [It is] not approaching it from a public-health perspective at all," said Michael Stanley, 54, who has lived with HIV for 18 years. Stanley has taken to streets in the city's Castro district to petition against the campaign.

Despite the concerns raised by Stanley and other gay men who are upset with the campaign, SAP officials said they have no plans to drop the ads, which will run another 16 weeks. The petition drive, which has generated several hundred signatures, did not surprise SAP program director David Evans.

"It was never our intention to harm or stigmatize anyone," Evans said, "but the HIV-positive guys who make up our Positive Force Program have been waiting to tell negative guys how tough it can be to live with HIV. We consider this a truth-in-advertising campaign."

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