Response in the GLBT community has been strong, and according to many of the postings on the discussion board at the Own It. End It. website, not everyone is happy with it:
HIV is a Gay disease? Are you kidding? For those of us living with the shame and fear of being HIV positive, I'm angry. For those who've lived long enough to see the world begin to accept HIV as more then a gay disease, I'm offended. For those who expect more from our gay organizations, I'm disappointed. Most people will only read your flashy tag line and that's what they'll promote. This world is filled with misinformation, due to our short attention spans. Most people get there information from bits and pieces propagated by the evening news or a flashy headline. I expected more from your center. While the details of your ad are most likely accurate, you've done an injustice to your community. You've flown off course and I'm saddened by your decision to promote this hateful headline.
The Los Angeles Times article regarding the controversial campaign was quick to point out that the billboards will not use the "HIV is a Gay Disease" tag, but instead will simply say "Own It. End It." I frankly don't think that this distinction makes it OK. Own what? This has generated enough attention in L.A., at this point, that the casual observer know EXACTLY what the billboards are asking gay men to do. Take ownership of a disease they didn't create. How can you ask us as a community to own something that has affected MILLIONS globally? And to a much greater degree worldwide the heterosexual populaion? It boggles the mind...
Personally, I'm not comfortable with this at all. Gay men have fought this stigma from the very beginning of this disease. To have it come full circle in an shock tactic campaign, even in the interest of public awareness, is not cool. And before anyone says, "Look, it says clearly in the ad that they don't believe that it is a disease with an `orientation'" let me tell you something:
I have taken enough marketing classes and seminars to understand that the initial impact of the bolded taglines is whatthe average driver on the streets of L.A. will remember, or the average reader skimming a magazine will read. This does a disservice to the disease, and to those stigmatized by employers, insurance companies, familes, and the public at large.