Christian Coalition Ad Sends Dangerous Public Health Message
AIDS Action urges correction for ad that misrepresents state of AIDS epidemic
August 12, 1998
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The Christian Coalition ad, titled "From innocence to AIDS," urges gay people to "change" their sexual orientation in order to avoid infection with HIV, a concept that ignores the millions of sexually-active HIV-negative gay men as well as the fact that lesbian sexual behavior carries an HIV infection risk lower than any other sexually-active group.
Even worse, the ad, reaching millions of heterosexual people of color, hardens a stereotype of AIDS as a disease predominantly affecting gay men and diminishes efforts to halt a public health emergency among heterosexuals in minority communities, who are already receiving inadequate public health information. Indeed, people of color now make up a majority of new HIV infections as well as new AIDS cases.
"Communities of color are in an AIDS emergency and the Christian Coalition has sent in fire trucks that spray gasoline," said AIDS Action executive director Daniel Zingale. "This ad is designed to further an extremist agenda but it's more effective at furthering the agenda of the AIDS virus: to infect more people."
In a letter today to Christian Coalition executive director Randy Tate, AIDS Action urged him to publicly correct misperceptions conveyed by the ad that AIDS is a disease predominantly affecting gay men in urban areas. The ad, potentially reaching millions of minorities will harden the misperception that AIDS is not a threat to their communities. Indeed, the power of this ad is demonstrated by a recent study indicating that African-Americans receive more of their AIDS information from the mass media than from any other source.
In addition, the theme of the ad "From innocence to AIDS," resurrects a long-ago discredited concept that infection with HIV is someone's "own fault." Polling data have consistently indicated strong support for AIDS funding and compassion for people living with HIV.
"Saying 'no one deserves AIDS' was something the AIDS community never thought it would need to repeat," added Zingale. "The Christian Coalition's message of division is in opposition to millions of caring Americans: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and Christians and Jews."
TEXT OF LETTER TO CHRISTIAN COALITION
August 12, 1998
Mr. Randy Tate
Dear Mr. Tate:
The advertisement you sponsored in the August 10th edition of The Wall Street Journal sends a dangerous and irresponsible public health message about the current state of the AIDS epidemic and, for the sake of new communities at risk for HIV, we urge you to publicly correct misrepresentations conveyed in the ad.
Those of us in the fight against AIDS are fighting a misperception that AIDS is a disease predominately affecting gay men in urban areas. The reality is that new HIV infection rates are in fact increasing predominately among women and minorities, communities that are receiving inadequate public health messages about the epidemic.
Your ad, reaching millions of people of color at risk for AIDS in New York and throughout the nation, will only harden complacency about HIV and AIDS. In fact, a recent study from The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that African-Americans receive more information about AIDS from mass media than anywhere else. Imagine the damage done by your ad considering this fact.
Recently, the Congressional Black Caucus declared a State of Emergency for HIV and AIDS in its constituent community and urged immediate action from the federal government for increased HIV prevention. AIDS Action joined the Caucus in this effort by calling for shared responsibility in the battle against HIV; that is, responsibility from individuals, corporations, the media and other organizations. Tragically, your ad was an act of great irresponsibility.
Not only does your ad do a disservice to minority communities at risk for HIV, your tagline for the ad, "From innocence to AIDS," associates guilt for people living with HIV. None of the 700,000 men, women and children living with HIV in America deserve AIDS.
Framing HIV infection in the manner you have is divisive, irresponsible and in opposition to the notion of "Fight AIDS, not people with AIDS," a mantra long ago adopted by millions of caring Americans: Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives and Christians and Jews.
Finally, the suggestion that abandoning a gay lifestyle is the only way to avoid HIV infection betrays the success of community-based prevention efforts and the millions of sexually active HIV-negative gay men.
Your ad not only attempts to make AIDS a battle against people but it feeds a dire public health emergency in minority communities. We hope that you will reconsider the messages in your ad and take steps to correct the misperceptions your organization has furthered.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss this matter further.
This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.