Tell NYC DOH to End “It’s Never Just HIV” Campaign
  • Petitioned Thomas Farley

This petition was delivered to:

Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Thomas Farley

Tell NYC DOH to End “It’s Never Just HIV” Campaign

    1. Petition by

      Natalie M. Wittlin

      New York, NY

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOH) has posted stigmatizing and potentially dangerous “It’s Never Just HIV” ads on city subways [1].

The posting of these ads follows the airing of an “It’s Never Just HIV” video spot [2].

The video spots tell young men who have sex with men that if they contract HIV, they will be at increased risk for osteoporosis, dementia, and anal cancer.  It is narrated by a man with a deep and threatening voice and features graphic imagery, including an up-close photograph of an infected anus; ironically, while this spot was airing on TV stations like the Travel Channel [3], blogs had to warn viewers that the video might not be safe for work [4].  The subway ads echo the video spot’s message to young men who have sex with men.

The campaign is intended to combat “HIV complacency” [5] among a young generation of men who have sex with men (MSM), many of whom have come to understand that, when managed properly, HIV is no longer a death sentence but rather, a chronic disease.

While HIV advocates agree that primary HIV prevention (stopping the spread of HIV to uninfected people) is of utmost importance, the potential effects of this campaign have been the subject of much heated debate.  Criticisms of the campaign have generally focused on: (1) whether the “scare tactics” it uses will actually increase condom use among MSM; (2) whether it might inadvertently contribute to decreased HIV testing among MSM; and (3) how it further stigmatizes people living with HIV and gay men in general – stigmas that LGBTQ and HIV advocates have been fighting to reduce for over thirty years.

One issue that has not been the subject of much debate is the one that was at the forefront of our minds and the center of our work as LGBTQ researchers, advocates, activists, and writers a mere four months ago, when a rash of suicides reminded us of the severity of this problem among LGBTQ youth.

Research with gay and bisexual men has demonstrated that testing positive for HIV may result in suicidal ideation [6].  Rates of depression [7] and suicide [8] among HIV-positive individuals are higher than rates within the general population.  However, research has also demonstrated that rates of suicide among people living with HIV have decreased since the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) [8], which allows HIV-positive people to effectively manage the virus and lead long and healthy lives.

The “It’s Never Just HIV” campaign is, indeed, targeting one of the city’s most vulnerable populations; young men who have sex with men have a very high rate of HIV infection relative to other groups [9].  However, young men who have sex with men are also particularly vulnerable to bullying, social exclusion, and suicide.  For young men living with HIV – and particularly recently diagnosed men – suicide is a real danger.  Hearing from other young, healthy MSM living with HIV can empower these men, giving them a sense of hope and control over their futures.  Seeing the Department of Health’s “It’s Never Just HIV” ads, however, may have the opposite effect.  The ads promote hopelessness in newly diagnosed men, many of whom have already dealt with years of family rejection, societal exclusion, and overt hatred; the ads tell these men that even if they take medications, they are fated to suffer – to live emotionally and physically painful lives.

We must consider the effects of these ads not only on their target audience, but also on other people – particularly young, HIV-positive gay and bisexual men.

The goal of this petition is to end the potentially dangerous "It's Never Just HIV" campaign.

Please sign your name and tell the NYC DOH to end this campaign now!










Recent signatures


    1. Reached 500 signatures
    2. An HIV Prevention Campaign That Harms Instead of Helps

      Michael Jones
      Senior Campaign Director

      I've written before about the high cost of stigmas surrounding HIV and AIDS. These stigmas create misinformation and fear, leading to laws criminalizing HIV and discrimination against people with HIV.
      Yet, campaigns to prevent the spread of HIV...

    3. Reached 250 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • scott Bartell MINNEAPOLIS, MN
      • over 3 years ago

      I am a social worker/psychotherapist who works with PWA

      for the past 30 years---and I can tell you your message is totally useless and destructive--please take that one out of circulation a soon as you can, and get back to Harm Reduction and Risk Reduction--via condoms at least!

    • William Harmon GREENWOOD, AR
      • over 3 years ago

      This is just another Smoke Screen to hide the real agenda here.The Anti-American Agenda of the GOP and their Corporate Masters is all about creating an Oligarchy.Any way they can distract the American Voter's attention from that fact is the desired result.

    • Holly Rider-Milkovich ANN ARBOR, MI
      • over 3 years ago

      As a former director of a student health clinic located in a downtown Brooklyn college, I was horrified to see thsi poster on a recent visit to new York City. For so long, NYC DOH was a leader in research-based prevention initiatives; I looked to your work for modeling and guidance in engaging with my college's high-risk population.To see the institution turn to stigmatizing and fear-mongering approaches as exemplified in the recent 'It's Never Just HIV" campaign was truly disheartening. Please, cease this campaign. There must be a better vehicle for this message.

    • Tiffany Hsiang NEW YORK, NY
      • over 3 years ago

      As a service provider for women living with HIV, I am disgusted by this public health campaign. I am disgusted with its lack of common sense and its insensitivity towards those who are affected by HIV. it's this type of stigma producing propaganda that leads to self destructive behaviors, medication non-adherence, and shame. Tell someone living with HIV that their medication will not help, and they will stop taking it. Tell someone living with HIV that their deterioration is imminent and unpreventable, and they will engage in unsafe sex and substance abuse. Tell someone who is undiagnosed that their life may be over, and they will not get tested. The potential benefits of this ad does not justify the more likely damage it will cause. Please remove these ads, as I cannot bear seeing them during my commutes.

    • Alberto Curotto SAN FRANCISCO, CA
      • over 3 years ago

      After 30 years all we can come up with is scare tactics? Not to mention the hypocritical disingenuousness, and callousness. Do these people really care about gay men's health? Just to mention a few: Why has a concern for anal cancer not prompted a campaign for regular Pap smear screening for all gay men and a mandate that insurance companies cover it? Is bone loss really caused by HIV or by ARVs, the same medications that some would now advice gay men to take as chemical prophylaxis? Dementia is certainly a big scary thing, but how many HIV specialists, researchers, or disability policy makers are really paying any attention to the complaints of smaller, gradual cognitive difficulties reported by many PWHA? I am disgusted. And I don't see how this may prevent new infections. It will mostly just increase the psychological trauma that gay men experience in association with their sexuality.


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