The Illinois Department of Public Health has begun running new PSA ads in the Chicago area (and perhaps elsewhere) in a new anti-HIV, or should I say, anti-people-with-HIV campaign. Their clever little tagline is "He's the 1." (I suppose using a number instead of the word makes it more "hip.") The image is below the fold, but for those of you who are unable to see the image, it basically consists of four cutout sections of male faces of differing races and skin tones, connected together to form a monstrous single "face." The text states "He's the 1 that could infect you."*
So, where to begin?
1. The combined facial expressions of each person making up this combined image are certainly threatening. Add to that the "he's the one that could infect you" text, and the IDPH more or less casts men with HIV in the role of predators. As if the majority of men with HIV are out there, intentionally spreading the virus, and you're next.
2. Note the use of "that" instead of "who." Add that to this threatening, monstrous face (the fact that one eye is placed significantly lower than the other is not, I believe, unintentional, invoking historical depictions of Igor, Quasimodo, and other "deformed" characters whose appearance is meant to be menacing), and the dehumanization of people with HIV is complete.
3. As Melissa pointed out when I sent her the link to the ad, this campaign completely ignores HIV reinfection, concentrating solely on first-time infections. Reinfection is incredibly fucking serious, and this ad completely erases the threat for those already infected with HIV.
4. Way to erase women, IDPH! Have we forgotten so quickly that women, and women of color in particular, are the group with the highest number of new infections?
5. ADAP (AIDS drug assistance program) funds are in serious jeopardy in Illinois; recipients are now being re-evaluated every six months rather than every year, and we may have to go to a waiting list. So... cut money for life-saving medications, but I wonder how much of this money must have gone into this campaign; if they paid for the design, and if they paid to buy full-page ads in every gay paper in the city, as well as street poster advertisements.
6. This is exactly the kind of stigmatizing bullshit that keeps people from going to get tested for HIV in the first place.
7. Fearmongering campaigns don't work.
8. By running this ad in all of the gay publications, as well as posters in gay neighborhoods, this was certainly an excellent way to make HIV a "gay disease" again! Bravo.
I'm sure I could come up with eight more things that are wrong with this, but I'm too pissed off right now. Wait, one more... I can't believe they raffled off a fucking iPad in conjunction with this steaming pile of FAIL. I'm hearing that many HIV agencies and LGBTQI organizations in the Chicago area are already voicing their outrage over these ads. Good. If you'd like to contact the IDPH and let them know you don't appreciate this ad campaign, their contact information is here.
* The text at the very bottom of the poster proudly announces "Paid for by the Illinois Department of Public Health." I hope they're ready to own this huge lapse in judgement, compassion and taste.