Selling AIDS: Wiretap Mag On HIV Prevention Messaging

I am Gay StayI recently met the author of this new piece on Wiretap Magazine called “Selling Ourselves: Questioning HIV Prevention Campaigns,” Kirk Grisham, through mutual friends and he’s a kindred spirit in trying to really push against all of the assumed narratives about “men who have sex with men,” and notions of “community” and “risk” in HIV prevention work. Let’s hope we get into Mailman, Kirk! LOL!

I have gotten into debates on this very blog about the meaning and efficacy of social marketing campaigns. While not perfect, and alone will not end the epidemic, I think they can be effective in breaking social norms, especially when they speak to people as having agency, value, and break certain silences and social taboos. In short: They get people talking and thinking.

Conversely, social marketing campaigns can also be stigmatizing, blaming, and as Grisham says in the article:

City agencies, private firms and the populations themselves share blame for producing these messages, which begs the question: Do we know what’s good for us? Are we simply propagating the same stigma, homophobia and racism vis-à-vis mainstream society through marketing, as seen in the Homoboy campaign?

Do these negative, racist and stigma-filled homophobic messages sell? Would positive messages work any better? Can one sell liberation?

He names some of the most problematic campaigns to come out in recent years, including “Don’t Be a Bitch. Wear A Condom.” The response he gets from Better World Advertising Exec Les Pappas (who I worked with on the WeArePartof You.org capaign)” basically says to Grisham that the message tested well in focus groups.

homoboy_l1

Where are your politics? When I was at New York State Black Gay Network and we did the campaign with Better World, we were very clear that we did not want to do some tacky stigmatizing campaign that talked down to Black gay men. The campaign we ended up with was taken to focus groups, but our values and politics shaped it from jump. This Don’t Be a Bitch message probably would test in the current social context where Black folks are running around talking about “Man Up” and “No Homo.” Does that make it right? Is it the goal of social marketing campaigns, as they pertain to public health interventions, just to mimick what else is already out there in the world? Or to actually know that what you’re doing isn’t doing more damage than it will acutally do any good? What are the measurements of success?

Very little reporting happens that questions the more subtle forms or racism and homopbobia that happen in do-gooder public relations campaigns. Thanks for continuing a conversation, Kirk.

RIP: Shelton Jackson

I met Shelton once or twice. He was definitely someone we’ve lost too soon, at age 31 to complications from AIDS. He was featured a few year’s ago on The Body.com. Here’s a letter from one of his co-workers at the African American Office of Gay Concerns in Newark.

Shelton Jackson (1978 – 2009)

Dear Friends,

Although many of you may have already heard, it is my sad duty to tell you that Shelton S. Jackson passed away on Monday, March 2, 2009 at approximately 6:00 am. His death was due to complications due to AIDS.

He was a patient at UMDNJ where he has been for the last month or so, hoping to get out soon and get into Broadway House. Many of his friends visited him from as far away as Atlanta and Los Angeles. His network of friends and colleagues spread throughout the USA as he was part of a national college speakers’ bureau for young people who were HIV-positive and not afraid to talk about it. Shelton was even featured in the CDC campaign “Take The Test–Take Control” for National Testing Day, and a similar campaign, “Does HIV Look Like Me?”
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Shelton was the very first person hired by the AAOGC. For three years he was our “front man,” and the welcoming face of our agency. Believe it or not, that was almost exactly seven years ago. It was he and I who shopped for the office furniture, put up posters, bought all the supplies and were able to officially open the office on March 15, 2002. Soon after we opened, Shelton re-entered Essex County College, where he became Editor of the college newspaper. He went on to write an publish two books of prose/poetry– The Second Chapter: Acceptance and The Dawn Of A New Day.

AIDS has truly cut this young man down in the prime of his life. He was just 31-years-old, and has done as much activism as one person can do. Even to the end, he was working as a consultant for us for our upcoming social marketing project. Shelton Jackson will certainly be missed.

The world has lost a great fighter–and we want the world to know that!

Sincerely,

Gary Paul Wright

Housing Works Update: Where Are All the Black Gay Men?

This article from Housing Works’ Weekly Update raises similar issues I raised in my op-ed for The Defenders Online about HIV/AIDS in the Black community, and the silence around Black gay men.

Two weeks ago individuals and organizations across the nation marked National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Judging by many of the articles, press releases and events commemorating the day, however, you might never guess that the highest percentage of new HIV infections in 2006 was among black gay men.

Why, even on a day dedicated to black AIDS awareness, do black gay men remain a footnote?

“It’s symptomatic of the problem we face of ridding our community of HIV in order to break the back of the epidemic,” said Ernest Hopkins, policy director of the Black Gay Advocacy Coalition. “The most heavily impacted population by percentages is black gay men. If you want to talk about this epidemic you have to start there, and then move very quickly to black women, or you’re not doing your job.” Read the rest of the article here:

Silence is KIlling Black Gays as Much as HIV

From The Defenders Online (the blog of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund).

…28 years into the AIDS epidemic, that silence that once protected us, is now killing us. As we near Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7th, all sorts of pronouncements will be made about the devastation HIV/AIDS is having on the community. And though we are disproportionately impacted by the epidemic, concern for black men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women will not likely come from most quarters of the community. If black leadership is at all concerned with ending this epidemic, we’re going to have to acknowledge and overcome the homophobia that is driving it in the community.

Read the entire op-ed here.

My Plenary Remarks at Creating Change

Hey folks, sorry  I been gone so long, but I was in Denver al last week for the 21st annual Creating Change conference, this year in Denver. Bilerico.com just published the speech I delivered at the HIV/AIDS plenary at Creating Change on Saturday, January 31, 2009. My other co-panelists, Marjorie Hill, PhD (Executive Director, Gay Men’s Health Crisis), Bishop Yvette Flunder (UCC Ark of Refuge, San Francisco), & David Ernesto Munar (VP of Development & Communications, AIDS Foundation Chicago), were quite brilliant!

Excerpt below. Go to Bilerico to get the full text:

First and foremost, the time where we can pretend that there is no viable, credible or visible Black (or other POC) queer leadership is over. While we certainly need to be developing leaders, leadership per se, is not the problem. We have lost of leaders, but leaders with no base that they’re accountable to. Because what little Black LGBT infrastructure that exists, is largely due to HIV/AIDS service delivery, we are able to reach lots of people in our organizations as “clients”, but are rarely engaged as potential leaders, organizers or members of our organizations. We need the investment of both progressive philanthropy and LGBT funders to help build the capacity and infrastructure of organizations to move from strict service delivery to doing community organizing, leadership development, and base-building.

Lastly, as long as the White-led mainstream LGBT movement is invested in seeing itself as the only credible leadership or it’s organizations the only ones doing “the real work” or having “real impact” we will continue to invisibilize the work that Black and other POC organizations are doing on the ground, in spite of real material obstacles. So every time the gay news media and organizations promote ideas of the gay community vs. the Black community, Black queers will continue to remain invisible, and assumes that Black queer people are not engaging in a battle against homophobia and transphobia in the Black community.

Here’s the last 3 minutes of the speech on Youtube:

Young Black Gays Debate Homophobia in Hip-Hop

I founs this duo online who produce the “LesMan Show” and I am in love with smart young Black gay men producing media and trying to think thru some things. In this case, ‘Lil Wayne’s homophobic lyrics:

Blacks, Gay Men At Highest Risk for HIV

New infections in Men

New infections in Men

The US Conference on AIDS has begun in Fort Lauderdale, unfortunately I couldn’t afford to go, but just as well because I am going to see my southern friends at Southerners on New Ground’s 15th Anniversary. But given the CDC’s recent release of the of the subpopulation data of the new infections for 2006 (called incidence), I thought I’d share some of the data with you. If you click on the link above you’ll find a lot of other tools to help you understand the data including a fact sheet, a Q&A, and a podcast:

CDC’s August 2008 data showed that gay and bisexual men, referred to in CDC’s surveillance systems as men who have sex with men (MSM)2, represented the majority of new infections in 2006 (53%, 28,720).

Now, in the more detailed analysis, CDC further examine new infections among whites, blacks, and

New Infections by Race

New Infections by Race

Hispanics/Latinos. The findings reveal that the ages at which MSM become infected vary by race:

  • Young Black MSM: Among MSM overall, there were more new HIV infections in young black MSM (aged 13–29) than any other age/racial group of MSM. The number of new infections among young, black gay and bisexual men was roughly twice that of whites and of Hispanics/Latinos (5,220 infections in blacks vs. 3,330 among whites and 2,300 among Hispanics/Latinos).
  • White MSM in their 30s and 40s: Among MSM in the analysis, white MSM accounted for close to half (46%) of HIV incidence in 2006. Most new infections among white MSM occurred in those aged 30–39 (4,670), followed by those aged 40–49 (3,740).
  • Hispanic/Latino MSM: Among Hispanic/Latino MSM, most new infections occurred in the youngest (13-29) age group (2,300), though a substantial number of new HIV infections were among those aged 30–39 (1,870)

Walt Senterfitt, in this month’s HHS Watch (a publication of Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)), writes about what the new data means for gay men in his piece called Where’s Our National Campaign Against Homophobia?

There has also been a consistent tendency over at least the last 15 years within much of the AIDS community itself – and certainly by the media and other institutions of civil society enlisted in the struggle against HIV/AIDS – to “de-gay-ify” HIV/AIDS. For example, messages stress that HIV is an “equal opportunity virus” and that anyone can be at risk, emphasize children and women at risk, and stress that HIV/AIDS is, in its majority, now an epidemic in communities of color (while simultaneously neglecting to stress that those most disproportionately impacted in communities of color are gay and bisexual men).

This direction in messaging was in part well intended, to combat the widespread assumption that if you are not a white gay man, AIDS is not your problem and you are not at risk. It was also meant to get beyond the intensified stigmatization of gay men and focus on the behaviors that put one at risk. This approach has been embraced by many HIV positive and other gay men who fear the added stigmatization of having “gay” remain widely associated with “HIV/AIDS” in public consciousness. Even from the start though, this approach was a capitulation to rather than a confrontation of societal stigma and prejudice against gay people, against transgender people, against all people who are sexually “non-normative.” And it didn’t work. Homophobia still is rampant, dollars have gone elsewhere, and, alone among the exposure categories, HIV infection rates among gay men are rising.

Here’s video from a panel CHAMP sponsored (that I moderated) back in February on the issue: