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Bear60
Legend

Reged: 12/21/05
Posts: 1390
"Bang Bang Your Dead"
      #203933 - 08/18/06 08:28 AM

Bang-Bang, You’re Dead: HIV Activists Shoot Down Fear-Based Prevention

by Kellee Terrell



August 16, 2006—Take the face of a young, handsome African-American man. Put it squarely in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle. Slap that image on a poster, with the tagline “HIV: Have You Been Hit?” Then plaster the ad on public buses, trolleys, and trains—and in clinics and print and broadcast ads—across Philadelphia. And what do you get? Depending upon whom you ask in the City of Brotherly Love, you have either a vital recipe for HIV prevention among gay and bisexual men of color—or yet another incendiary stereotype suggesting that guns and violence are the only language African-American men can understand.

The $236,000 campaign, which the Philadelphia Department of Public Health launched in May, responds to alarming data that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released last year. The report found that in five American cities (Philadelphia wasn’t included), 46% of African-American men who have sex with men (MSM) were HIV positive; two-thirds of those had told pretest interviewers that they believed they were negative.

What’s more, the CDC notes, African Americans are ten times more likely than Caucasians to be diagnosed with full-blown AIDS when they first test positive for HIV, due partly to low testing rates. So the city interviewed several advertising firms, then tapped the local, black-owned Zigzag agency to craft a strategy. “This was an entire social marketing campaign,” says Mark Norris, 45, Zigzag’s president. “This campaign is about saving lives.”

And indeed, many in its target demographic embraced it. Carlos Harkum, a 25-year-old HIV positive gay man who lives in gun-ravaged North Philadelphia, told POZ.com, “I liked the ads. I thought they were catchy, and people need to get tested here. It’s like, ‘Have you been hit?’ ”

However, the campaign itself was hit—when it crossed hairs with another Philadelphia health emergency. As of August 16, a wave of record-breaking gun violence had claimed 244 murder victims in the city since January 1, 2006—most of them African-American. (Another 1,200 Philadelphians have been injured.) The perceived threat is so severe that in July, Philadelphia Mayor John Street made a rare public television address, urging citizens to “take a deep breath before resorting to the use of guns to settle minor conflicts.”

Not-so-minor conflicts arose over Zigzag’s poster—as gay, African-American and AIDS activists assailed the city and the agency, citing what they called an insensitive and self-reinforcing affirmation of violence. Hassan Gibbs, 49, an HIV positive treatment educator at Philadelphia’s largest AIDS service organization (ASO), Philadelphia Fight, says he didn’t mind the ads at first but soon changed his mind when activists sent him e-mails. Gibbs, who is gay, says, “Every day here is like Iraq; every day we count down [the murders] on the news. The [Zigzag] ads are culturally inappropriate. Young men here glorify shooting each other, and [the firm] should have left the guns out of the ad.” Diagnosed in 1985, Gibbs says he is living proof that, as he puts it, “HIV is not a death sentence” and that contrary to the ads’ implication, “once you’ve been hit, you’re not necessarily dead.”

Among the ads’ more vocal opponents is Lee Carson, 33, chair of the city’s Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council. “We need to be culturally sensitive,” he says. “ Not only are black men usually victims of gun violence, but these ads further perpetuate the existing stereotypes that we are gun-toting hoodlums.” In a letter to the interim director of the Philadelphia Health Department, Carmen Paris, Carson wrote, “Given the violence perpetuated against gay men, it is not far-fetched to see how this campaign fosters violence.”

Zigzag’s Norris says he still doesn’t understand the activists’ objections. “We don’t agree that these images have anything to do with violence,” he says, adding that the campaign was endorsed by two focus groups from gay and African-American organizations. “I did not choose it,” he adds, to which Carson responds, “This image should never have made it to the focus groups at all.”

Such fear tactics—images of guns, lesions, scorpions and skeletons, plus spooky, threatening ultimatums—are hardly new in HIV prevention, and their use perennially sparks controversy in the AIDS community. Although Norris says Zigzag “rarely uses fear campaigns,” he adds that “MSMs or men on the ‘down low’ are so hard to reach that fear is the most effective way. Do you pussyfoot around and spend government tax dollars on a campaign that you know won’t work?” Norris says the campaign has been extremely successful, claiming that calls to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s HIV/AIDS hot line have increased by 150%. (Department spokespeople did not respond to POZ.com’s numerous requests for comment on this story.)

David Malebranche, MD, 37, an assistant professor of medicine at Atlanta’s Emory University who has extensively studied the African-American MSM community, doesn’t dispute Norris’ numbers. But he does question what he considers the agency’s sensationalistic approach in achieving them. “When government dollars are involved, [prevention contractors] only want to show good numbers up-front,” he says. “I think using fear as a last [desperate] resort is garbage. Everything fear-based comes down from our president who uses fear to launch every agenda.”

Adds Carson, “Phone calls do not translate into testing. We need campaigns that are going to change behaviors over the long haul. We also need to address the underpinnings of HIV—heterosexism, stigma and homophobia.” Malebranche suggests, “What young MSMs need are more strategies that focus on how we can become more empowered and negotiate our mental health without the fear.”

During the week of August 7, local and national media, including the Associated Press, reported that the Department of Public Health pulled the campaign in, well, self-defense. “Not so,” Norris says. “The health department never pulled the ads; they were being phased out on schedule, and this part of the campaign ran its course.” He pauses. “Now, we are ready for Phase 2.” Norris didn’t specify what that phase would involve but did offer these clues: “We will work with any and all groups to make sure that everyone’s opinion is considered. But that will not preclude us from creating sometimes controversial campaigns to get the results our clients are after. We’re not gonna go and get tamed.”




--------------------
6 ft tall poz bear in Philadelphia

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Choosing2Liv
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Reged: 03/21/06
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Re: "Bang Band Your Dead" new
      #203954 - 08/18/06 11:29 AM

Very interesting article Joel. It's a shame that "leaders" are spending so much time debating and promoting their own adgendas that they will probably soon loose sight of the real issue -- getting people tested!!!

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Anonymous
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Re: "Bang Band Your Dead" new
      #203959 - 08/18/06 11:54 AM

That was a bad campaign, not well thought out. Even so, it's much easier to tear apart someone's efforts than to come up with an alternative. Since you feel that the 'leaders' are wasting time on their own issues, what constructive things would you propose to get people out and testing?

I for one would like to see more HIV postive people talking to groups. All groups, school groups, the garden club ladies, golfers, health care workers, etc. This can put a real face on HIV. It makes it a bit more personal. It takes it out of the 'it's not in my neighborhood' realm. Many people don't test because they don't believe they are ever at risk, because they assume that they don't know high risk people so therefore it's not an issue.

One of the biggest problems we have in my rural area with trying to educate is that people just don't believe HIV exists out here. It only exists in the city. It's the gays and drug users that are at risk. Not us in rural, bible belt America.

It's these people that need to hear from someone with HIV. Upfront and personal. I'm here, I'm just like you. I have HIV. Get tested.

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Choosing2Liv
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Reged: 03/21/06
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Loc: South
Re: "Bang Band Your Dead" new
      #204077 - 08/19/06 11:10 AM

[quote] That was a bad campaign, not well thought out. Even so, it's much easier to tear apart someone's efforts than to come up with an alternative. Since you feel that the 'leaders' are wasting time on their own issues, what constructive things would you propose to get people out and testing. [/quote]

Mr./Ms Anonymous-

I quickly learned, after being on the site for a short while, not to waste valuable time debating issues with Anonymous posters. Having said that, I'll get right to the point.

1- We both agree that the campaign was not well thought out.

2- It was not my intent to "tear apart someone's effort." If that were the case, my post would have been much longer and harsher, since the article raised several sore issues with me.

3- I'm not a highly paid advertising manager, so it's not my talent or duty to come up with politically correct alternative ads.

4- As for leaders wasting time on their own issues, read the article again and you will see that more of it deals with issues other than the real message that should be spread (safe sex and getting tested).

Frankly, I would have enjoyed reading YOUR post, had you left your 1st paragraph out. I thought it was ironic that you began by accusing me of being negative and you did so in a negative way.

Now for the record, I think your suggestion was good. Like you, I admire those who talk to groups about the virus and issues relating to it. If you are one of those who are able to "put a real face on HIV," I applaud you for doing so and hope that one day I'll be able to do the same.

Let's stay focused on the real issues.
-Gary



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Bear60
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Posts: 1390
Re: "Bang Bang Your Dead" new
      #204089 - 08/19/06 01:46 PM

Dear Gary and Anon......
If you live here in Philly, just pick up any newspaper on any day and there will be horrible news of people shooting each other. Often this violence is in the black community where drugs and drug related violence is widespread. But its often tragic stuff where a child finds a gun in the house and accidently shoots someone. The gun problems here in Philadelphia are so out of control that this campaign to raise awareness of HIV doesnt seem to get any message across except that of gun violence. I dont know what the guy who thought this up was thinking but if HIV is to be addressed I think that the message has to be Get Tested and show someone GETTING TESTED......dont you think?
The stigma of HIV was the issue for AIDS activists here........HIV being equated with gun violence. You dont want to force MORE poeple to go into the closet...you want them to come OUT of it. Am I making any sense here?

--------------------
6 ft tall poz bear in Philadelphia

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Anonymous
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Re: "Bang Bang Your Dead" new
      #204102 - 08/19/06 04:12 PM

Your making very good sense Bear. It was a bone head campaign. Sometimes it's surprising just how blind people can be to what exactly they are saying, but most times I think it's because they become so focused on the message they are trying to get across, the the chance of miscommunication just doesn't occur to them.

C2L, I didn't mean to be so negative, I'm sorry I came across that way. I guess it just hit a nerve. Much of what we try to do with my ASO in terms of educating about people living with HIV and HIV prevention is met with...'Oh that won't work", "Why bother" or "No one will listen anyway", but no one ever seems to want to come up with an alternative.

I'm sure some of what we've come up with has been a bit bone headed, but you try.

As too Number 3. I'm not an adversting exec either. I'm just an Admin Assistant and yes, I do what I can.

I'm on the Board of Directors of my ASO, the funny thing....I'm the only HIV postive person on the board. The people I work with are fantastic and so willing to give of their time and energy. They are passionate about what they are doing. It's a breath of fresh air. On here we deal with so many HIV negative people that only want to take, to get answers. Working with these wonderful people gave me a new lease on trying to educate the uninformed.

I do volunteer to talk to groups when they are willing to have people from my ASO speak to them. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is trying to just get our foot in the door for a slim chance to try to educate anyone. However, when I do get the chance, it's an amazing experience. Being able to talk to people one on one, so to speak. Many times, I'm probably the first person they have met with HIV....at least the first person that acknowledges that.

Most of the questions asked are fairly intelligent, tho' I've learned to side step the really personal ones. Everytime I come away feeling that with that chance to make a face to face human connection, perhaps that gap of understanding has closed a bit. Perhaps I get that message across that HIV can happen to anyone.

I know that you are still coming to terms with all this yourself. You will. When you are ready there are always opportunites to become a voice.

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Choosing2Liv
Legend

Reged: 03/21/06
Posts: 581
Loc: South
Re: "Bang Bang Your Dead" new
      #204238 - 08/21/06 11:43 AM

It sounds like we are on the same page when it comes to the importance of getting the right message across.

Like you, my intent was not to be negative but a nerve was hit when I read the original article. Unfortunately, I've seen far too many people of power and influence get side tracked off the real issue. I was merely voicing my frustration with what seemed like another case of forgetting what the real battle was.

I'm glad that you were able to contribute to your local ASO in such a meaningful way. Hopefully, one day I will be able to do the same.

-Gary

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