Thursday, November 14, 2013

SF AIDS Inc: No Praise for Gays 50-Plus Surviving a Plague


There has never been a social marketing campaign praising gay men, HIV positive and negative, from the very well-financed institutions that comprise AIDS Inc, for living through the plague years and all the amazingly great advocacy work we've engaged in over the past thirty-plus years.

While we have endured endless deficit-assumption based campaigns accusing us of not talking about AIDS or not giving a fuck or not getting enough HIV tests or not doing a seemingly endless list of activities AIDS service organizations and the Department of Public Health decided in their ivory towers should be done, I can't think of a single ad effort congratulating us for all the terrific actions we've taken in three decades.

The ad above from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation ran in the Bay Area Reporter of October 2000, about an alleged skyrocketing of HIV transmissions, and questioned whether gays give a fuck about transmission and a lot of other issues. Foundation leaders said they wanted to spark a discussion about gay male health. Great way to start a conversation about one's health. Accuse the target audience with not caring and curse at them.


The assumption of every AIDS campaign is that gays are doing something, usually many things, wrong and only AIDS Inc can tell us how to take care of ourselves. This ad campaign was funded by the San Francisco Department of Public Health in 2005 and is typical of the finger-wagging approach beloved by HIV prevention professionals.

As gay men living with HIV and AIDS have grappled with myriad medical visits, blood draws, frightening test results, battling opportunistic infections, the side effects of drug cocktails, paying for the meds and healthcare, maintaining an income, staying alive and creating ways of thriving, we've not given praise and love for surviving.

On top of those medical matters, we've had to process and counter the stigma heaped upon us as gay men and PWAs by religious leaders, ambitious politicians, ratings-hungry TV giants and other media and too much societal hatred, while being accused of not giving a fuck by AIDS organizations.

Many of the AIDS service groups and their executives owes gays and PWAs, especially those in ACT UP chapters, for demonstrating and demanding more money for them and still there is no gratitude from AIDS Inc.


When not bombarding us with HIV-specific social marketing campaigns, the SF DPH has targeted us with inflammatory messages about sexually transmitted diseases and drug use. This ad from the STD Control Unit of DPH ran in the BAR in 1999 and gained infamy for equating gay men with syphilis as walking and ticking time bombs about to explode. Have I mentioned how these campaign have burdened us with outrageous stigma and hysteria?

I'm not saying that HIV, STDs and drug use among gay men in San Francisco shouldn't be of concern or addressed with social marketing. What I object to is the pathological basis for the campaigns that NEVER find a damn positive thing to say about gay men, our collective wellness and all the incredible survival and work we've accomplished.

We constantly are beat with a stick and never does AIDS Inc find a way to offer a carrot as an incentive.


I forget when this obnoxious San Francisco AIDS Foundation ad effort was launched, but the basic message was for gays not to trust whatever sex partners said about their HIV status or really anything about their health. The point of "How do you know, what you know?" was for gays to be suspicious of each other. Decades of such messaging have done much social, sexual and psychological harms to gay men regardless of HIV status or age.


The latest insulting campaign from SF DPH and the Kaiser Family Foundation is the Greater Than AIDS effort. Ignoring pleas to give us a break from the supposed silence or whispering about AIDS here. Follow the link and read how it's another provocative campaign with a damn positive thing to say about gays: "An overarching theme of the cross-platform campaign is to encourage more open communication about HIV in relationships, with health care providers and within the community generally."

Again, we have the social campaigners telling we are not doing enough talking. I wonder how the, ahem, fuck they measure whether open communication is up or down about HIV in our interactions with each other, our healthcare professionals and when we're just hanging out with friends and family and they ask how we're doing.

I'm closing this post with a composite quote from the late gay male health advocate Eric Rofes, about what is so terrible about these ads:

I think more than anything we need a few years of “time out” from directive AIDS prevention work for gay men. We need to get away from all the messaging, all the marketing, all the “crises of the week” used to terrify gay men into sexual sterility [...] Frankly, many of us have forged our own “time out” from all of the violence sent down to us by AIDS prevention. Many gay men do their very best to avoid the messaging, avoid the social marketing, avoid getting caught up in the drama of crisis about our sex [...] What effects does the colonization of bodies and desires have on a people when it is allowed to go on for 25 years? [...] The use of social marketing as the primary tool in HIV education and prevention has been a disaster with consequences we never imagined.

It is time for AIDS Inc in San Francisco to design and launch a few social marketing campaigns that clearly and unquestionably praise gay men over 50, especially longterm AIDS survivors, for living through the plague years and the amazing changes we brought about while surviving and thriving.

7 comments:

Ed Wolf said...

Thank you for this smart, sassy and painfully right on series of observations. We need to figure out ways to all welcome each other back and tell each other what a great job we've done to survive. Thanks!

Michael Petrelis said...

You're most welcome, Ed, and thank you for the praise. If a Martian landed on Earth and learned about AIDS only from AIDS Inc social marketing in San Francisco, he would think gays over 50, neg and poz, had never done a damn good thing. I hope the industry soon figures out how to praise us for surviving, thriving and changing so many things for so many people around the world.

Mike Hoban said...

On point, Michael. I really don't care about getting praise, we know what we did, who died in our arms, who we fought, and who we fought along side. What I do care about is the feeling among my younger gay friends that we are unapproachable and judgmental on the subject of HIV, that we shut off the conversation with 'you were not there, you would not understand'. Those of us who survived the initial plague have a lot we can share. We need to keep in mind that the enemy is the disease, not each other.

Michael Petrelis said...

Mike, It's good you don't need positive strokes for the good work and survival you've accomplished. However, there are many others in our generation who do need to hear loud and clear reminders that they did great work, and are loved and appreciated. We are not just a cohort of men who survived a plague to be used and abused by AIDS Inc with their deficit-assumption campaigns.

Tez Anderson said...

Michael. One of our projects at Let's Kick ASS is a Real Faces of Long-Term Survivors campaign. Our first town hall was called the "Definition of Brave" because we want to begin celebrating the achievement of surviving. There are many in our cohort who do not feel brave nor want congratulating so the idea is to make room for everyone to celebrate being alive after living through hell. Stay tuned because I think you'll like what we are planning. It will take a little time but we are working on it. It is important to us and important to me. Keep on kicking ass and thanks for stoking the fires.

Cheers,
Tez Anderson, Founder Let's Kick ASS

Michael Petrelis said...

Hi Tez, Glad to hear there is recognition of differing views regarding honoring ourselves and what we or I want from AIDS Inc. I've decided the best word, right now, to describe one aspect of a social marketing campaign is the glorification of 50-plus gays and longtime AIDS survivors. There's been plenty, ok, too much at times, glorification of HIV negative and straight executive directors of AIDS Inc groups, or corporate sponsors. I'd like to see local agencies and SF DPH glorify and celebrate mature PWAs and gays.

Simon Forbes said...

It amazes me some of these campaigns and the bitch and syphilis posters are among the worst I have seen. Someone needs to tell these people it is 2013 not 1993 or in the case of syphilis scaremongers not 1943. Fear based campaigns do not work any more to the extent they did in the past and are now worse than useless. The finger wagging goes on including among the gay press. They would go crazy if someone said this to their faces but IMHO the truth about some of those scribblers is they FEAR THEIR OWN DESIRES and deflect from that by mouthing off about what other people are doing.

Those who exaggerate the level of unprotected sex and rises in HIV infection do a great deal of harm. We are simply not seeing the doubling rates of the 80s these days if we can speak of a doubling rate at all. Recent stats suggest much (if not all I am checking this out) of the recent rise in infections among MSM in the UK are because more of that group are coming forward for testing which is a good and not a bad thing as they can start treatments early. We always need to be wary of stats and how they can be misused.

So far as gay men generally over the age of 45 (never mind over 50) the HIV and AIDS organisations usually just act as if we don't exist. The assumption in some quarters is that we are all dead I am sure. In fairness GMFA which is one of the best of these groups anywhere and in which Positive guys including PWAs have always had a big role did run a campaign for men over 50 a while back.