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.

GMHC Launches New Campaign Targeting Fathers of Black Gay Men

Some people don’t dig social marketing campaigns, but I think that, when done well, they can be a good way to disrupt the many silences around our lives and put them into the public sphere for conversation. When it comes to homophobia and the consistent invisibility of Black queers in the Black community (though that is beginning to change slowly) having posters in subways or wheat-pasted, they can be good ways for us to disrupt the silence and be situated in the geography of the city.

This is the second of a series GMHC has been doing this year, and though I am less giddy about this one as I was the I LOVE MY BOO campaign, this one is damn cool too!

“Families are critically important to young men of color and this campaign builds on the strength and resiliency of those bonds,” stated Dr. Marjorie Hill, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC. “We recognize the complexities in the lives of young men of color who have sex with men. Thus, HIV prevention efforts should speak to the realities faced by these young men on a daily basis. We cannot simply deliver a message of “use condoms” or “be tested for HIV. It is imperative to address the myriad of underlying factors which contribute to the transmission of HIV, including homophobia, racism, poverty, isolation, stigma, poor body image, and inadequate access to health care.”

I Love My Boo!

This is the way to do social marketing for HIV prevention for Black and Latino Gay men.

My friends at the Institute for Gay Men’s Health at GMHC continue to break the mold in terms of how to do effective, interesting, and NON-STIGMATIZING HIV prevention. For Black gay men in particular, we know that number of sex partners, higher rates of drug use or higher rates of unprotected anal sex isn’t what is driving the epidemic among Black gay men (who have the highest HIV rates in the US). One of the things that may be a contributing factor among Black gay youth is “serial monogamy”—Black gay men tend to only date one person at a time, but not having safe sex in those monogamous relationships, which are often (as is generally true with youth) short lived.

Also, when polled about their rates of getting tested, Black gays are generally getting tested regularly, so testing does not equal prevention. So all those “get tested” campaigns are not the issue, and they can actually be more stigmatizing, because the only time Black gays get talked about in public purview is to “protect the public” from disease. I guess we’re not considered part of the public—HIV+ or not.

If we recognize that folks need to have safe sex in their monogamous relationships, this social marketing campaign makes perfect sense as an intervention. I also love the fact that the ads are also all over Black and Latino neighborhoods in NYC.

Kudos, GMHC!