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

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

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!










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

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