Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Billboard Campaign Against HIV-AIDS Draws Ire Of City Lawmaker

By Brody Levesque | DALLAS -- A campaign to increase awareness of HIV infections has one Dallas lawmaker fuming. Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill, who has a reputation for being anti-gay having once stated that “all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless,” is angry about a billboard promoting public education about HIV.
The billboard, which is visible along one of the city's major thoroughfares, depicts a black male couple and the message, "Update Your status," and a phone number to call. According to Councilwoman Hill, the billboard sends the message that African American men who engage in homosexual conduct [are] presented as acceptable.
A report released in 2011 by the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department revealed that the new infections rate among the city's black community had increased to nearly half of all newly reported infections. The report also noted that county’s rate of HIV infection was the highest in the state of Texas and that the rate was disproportionately higher among African-American men who have sex with men.
Dallas County health director Zachary Thompson said in an email, "The message is very clear. The message is: Among African American men who have sex with men the rate of HIV new cases is at an epidemic proportion." 
Hill, who was first elected in 2007, has had an adversarial relationship with the city's LGBT population, which is ironic as the largest LGBT neighborhood is located in her council district. Hill has repeatedly refused to attend the annual Pride events, telling local LGBT publication The Dallas Voice in 2010, 
“I won’t be participating [this year], and based on my present beliefs, I won’t be participating in the future,” Hill said. “There’s no reason I should be castigated for that.” 
Asked what those beliefs are, Hill said: 
“I believe that all people are loved by God, all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless. It does not mean the person is any less God’s child. I’m entitled to stand for what I believe, and I don’t appreciate anyone castigating me for standing for what I believe.”
The billboard campaign is co-sponsored by the nonprofit organization Greater Than AIDS, which recently helped DCHHS launch the public education campaign DALLAS>AIDS
The organisation is also spreading the word in its campaign via its website reminding readers that June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, listing educational resources and a means of locating testing sites and care services.