An ad for FreeHIVTest.net that appeared earlier this spring has caused controversy in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other areas where it has appeared on billboards and on public transportation kiosks. In the "white" version, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's ad features a gay couple in bed, covered only by a sheet and looking ashamed of what they've just done. A blond man clutches his pillow and looks suspiciously over the shoulder of the other man who appears to be almost catatonic. Above them, writtern in big letters is, "Trust Him?"
The website features numerous versions of the same ad with couples of various genders and ethnicities.
After the campaign launched this spring in Los Angeles, it's been slated to appear in Oakland, California; Washington, D.C.; Columbus, Ohio; and Broward County, Florida. In a press release, AHF president Michael Weinstein explained:
"In today's tabloid culture when it can seem that the game called 'Life' should be more appropriately tiled 'Lies,' the old adage holds true now more than ever, 'It's better to be safe than sorry.' While infidelity is nothing new, the level of risk in contracting STDS from bed-hopping partners is at an all-time high. We want to remind couples that STDs linger around much longer than a wandering eye and that secret sexual experiences can often produce much more than what one bargained for."
For some, it's just a cautionary PSA about the realities of HIV and the importance of getting tested. For others, it's been seen as a scare tactic to shame people out of having sex and demonize people with HIV -- and many have spoofed the ads.
Legendary AIDS activist, Peter Staley took to Facebook to skewer the ad:
"It feeds HIV criminalization laws, and insists that gay men should always be afraid of sex... They don't need to distrust each other, or live in constant fear -- just wear a condom, or use PrEP, or both."
Although society has come a long way since approaching HIV as an untreatable plague, there's still a stigma toward those living with a positive status. Regardless of the context, the ad demands attention to an important issue.