Billboards urging gay black men to get HIV-tested prompt controversy
LOS ANGELES -- Billboards with messages promoting safe sex among black males have stirred up controversy in Los Angeles. According to Jeffrey King, executive director of the Los Angeles advocacy group, In the Meantime Men, the main message was to promote love and HIV testing among black men.
An earlier campaign, launched last year depicted a black male couple shirtless in an embrace with a message reading, "Our Love is Worth Protecting .... We Get Tested." That campaign provoked a backlash that King credits to the fact that discussions of any matter sexual, particularly same-sex matters which are taboo in the black community are difficult at best.
Those billboards have since been replaced by ads that feature a single word, in boldface capital letters and crossed out: "HOMOPHOBIA."
Los Angeles County health officials are worried that the taboo and stigma accorded black men having sex with black men prevents effective campaigning to increase awareness of HIV prevention and keeps many black people from getting tested or receiving treatment.
A spokesperson for LA County Health Director Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding confirmed to LGBTQ Nation Wednesday that the highest new HIV infection rate is in West Hollywood, home to the county's LGBT community, but he added, the main problem with the black male population is that they tend to live in the predominantly black communities, ie: South L.A., where the billboard campaign was first launched, and where homophobic attitudes tend to be a cultural norm.
The Center's For Disease Control in a 2013 release of data reported that although the black community is only about 14% of the population in the U. S., nearly half of all the 1 million plus HIV cases are within the black community and that young black men account for the highest number of new HIV infections.
"It's true nationally, it's true locally, it's true in most metropolitan areas in the nation," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, told the LA Times. "It's been a very serious problem, and we've been aware of it for years."
The new campaign aims "to address one of the key factors in why we're seeing high rates of HIV, especially among gay black men," King said adding that many gay and bisexual black men in South L.A. are not getting tested for HIV because the very act might "out" them, while many straight black men are not getting tested because they don't want to be perceived as gay.