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One of Southern California's most influential gay institutions has launched a controversial ad campaign that describes HIV as a "gay disease.''
The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's departure from 20 years of countering the idea of AIDS as a gay plague is designed to reach gay men who have grown complacent about the illness. The message "HIV is a gay disease'' and the tagline "Own It. End It'' is part of a billboard and magazine ad campaign.
The amount of attention from AIDS awareness groups paid to minority women and others has left gay men, who still represent many of those infected in the United States and Western Europe, feeling a false sense of security, proponents of the campaign said.
"A very alarming silence has descended over our community with regard to HIV and AIDS,'' said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Gay and Lesbian Center. "We believe that most people in our community do not understand the degree to which this epidemic continues to be in Los Angeles largely an epidemic among gay and bisexual men.''
Apathy about AIDS among gay men is a serious problem on the West Coast, where most HIV transmission is among men having sex with other men, public-health officials said.
The ads, however, have drawn criticism from some, who worry that the campaign could further stigmatize the disease and make heterosexual men and women less likely to seek treatment.
"I applaud the desire to have more personal responsibility in the gay community, but this is not the way to achieve it,'' said Michael Weinstein, head of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "AIDS is not a gay disease. It's not an African-American disease. It's not a Latino disease. It is a disease of the immune system.''
In Los Angeles County about 75% of HIV cases are among men who have had sex with other men. But nationwide, gay and bisexual men account for about half of recent HIV transmissions, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Activist Cynthia Davis said the Los Angeles center's campaign could erase years of progress in removing the stigma of AIDS among blacks, a community that is skittish about homosexuality and at high risk for the disease. "This is ludicrous. It's ridiculous,'' Davis said. "It's going backward.'' (AP)