August 8, 2006
They were meant as a strong message to encourage HIV testing, but ads in Philadelphia showing young black men in the crosshairs of a gun were pulled Monday -- just days after the Black Gay Men's Leadership Council (BGMLC) went public with concerns it had been raising since December.
In a July letter to interim Health Commissioner Carmen Paris, BGMLC Chairperson Lee Carson wrote, "Given the violence perpetrated against gay men, it is not far-fetched to see how this campaign fosters violence."
The $236,000 campaign sought to encourage HIV testing by gay, bisexual and "down-low" African-American men. The ads showing black men in a gun's sight carried the tagline "Have You Been Hit?" Launched in late May, the campaign included city bus ads, TV spots, postcards and a Web site, www.dontguess.org.
Paris, who said she "inherited" the campaign and only recently saw the ads, said the effort had already been scheduled to end on Aug. 3. The kickoff press release, however, said the campaign would continue through the rest of 2006.
Zigzag Net Inc. of Philadelphia created the ads. Zigzag Project Manager Aaron McLean said, "We are aware of the objections to the campaign. However, we acted under the explicit direction of the city health department. The response in the focus groups was very positive."
"Above and beyond the obvious issues of scapegoating and demonizing HIV-positive people, for a campaign to simulate gun violence in a city that has been ravaged by gun violence, I'm almost speechless," said Mark McLaurin, founder of the New York State Black Gay Network.
As of midnight Sunday, 238 people had been shot dead in Philadelphia so far this year, up from 215 at the same time in 2005. Mayor John Street convened a City Hall summit on the crisis last month.