Band-Aid on a Gunshot Wound

Empowering young people (and all ages actually) to think positively about sex and in a way that benefits oneself, would help people to negotiate what they do and how they do it more safely and sanely… Encouraging people to care more for themselves will decrease their choice to have risky sex across the board, as well as increase their willingness to seek testing and treatment.
StevieWe’re Still Here

A few months ago, The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) debuted a campaigned attempting to convince more gay/bisexual men to use condoms. The graphic print and TV ad: It’s Never Just HIV pissed a lot of people off.

No seriously, some folks are really upset. There’s even a petition to stop it. Haven’t seen it yet? Feel free to watch below (viewer discretion is advised).

Yeah, not for the faint of heart. The ad is stigmatizing, misleading and previous research has shown using fear in public health campaigns such as this does not change behavior.

I did want to offer some key context I think has been missing from the conversation thus far:

All the DOHMH campaigns are negative this “season”
They didn’t just throw the gays under the bus, check out their campaigns to get New Yorkers to stop smoking and eat healthier:

DOH smoking.jpg

Ugh. I can’t begin to tell you how nauseating it is to see these around town (especially after I’ve had lunch!).

DOHMH has run positive ads before. This bulletin even has a good amount of LGBT representation. But they’ve decided to play disappointed parent this year.

Public health is broken
I know it’s stating the obvious, but bear with me.

News flash: When it comes to health care in the United States demand far outweighs the supply. Not only are many people uninsured, but state and city budgets are being slashed. Nothing seems to be working and agencies are getting desperate.

We’ve banned smoking in almost every part of NYC and people continue to kill themselves (and everyone around them) with nicotine.

Obesity has been linked to all sorts of health ills (heart attack, stroke, diabetes, etc.) yet people continue to eat crap.

And we continue to throw condoms at people (there’s even an app for that!) and the rates of HIV continue to rise, especially in young gay/bisexual men of color. It’s a crisis on all fronts. We’ve put a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound and the system isn’t going to sustain itself for much longer. The DOHMH has no problem using homophobia, stigma and other graphic images if they think it will get people to take better care of themselves.

It’s the Poverty Stupid!
You don’t have to give me the “sociologist speech” (the isms that rule our world: racism, classism, sexism, etc. are to blame here). Having worked to combat HIV/AIDS for over eight years as a black gay man myself, I get it both personally and professionally.
People smoke because it calms them down and makes them feel better (and if everyone had access to mental health services maybe less people would smoke).

Food desserts exist, even here in NYC where it’s hard to get healthy food around your neighborhood. And if you do have access, it’s probably expensive.

There are many reasons why people have unprotected sex: not just because they don’t have condoms readily available.

Personal responsibly alone won’t fix these problems. I’m just thinking I’m not going to hold my breath and wait for my government to have my back. Maybe I’m cynical about these sorts of things?

Lived experience trumps public service announcements (PSAs)

At the end of the day social marketing campaigns can’t validate people who already are invalided in their day-to-day experiences. Visibility is important, I’ll be the first one to preach that. But if I’m HIV positive and people discriminate me at my job, online or at school because of it, seeing Derrick and Jaszi make out on my way to the subway isn’t going to (long term) make me feel better about my situation.

Speaking of adorable Jaszi, check out this other campaign: We’re Still Here by hivstopswithme.org (with can also be seen around NYC).

It’s sad to think this sort of campaign is needed in today’s world, but it is. The larger conversation here needs to be around how we treat one another as people and how that effects the decisions we make: sexual health and otherwise.

The real question is not “How do we get gay/bisexual men to use protection more?” but “What circumstances lead people to not use condoms consistently in the first place?” It seems small, but the shift could make all the difference.

This should be our focus moving forward.

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