HIV And The Value Of Gay Men

Published: January 12, 2012

Are the majority of the people living with HIV in this country heterosexual or gay/bisexual men? Why should it matter?

Last month, the Florida Department of Health released an online campaign entitled, “The Faces of HIV.” It’s a great campaign that will do well to reduce stigma and expand the perception of who is living with HIV. The campaign is fresh, dynamic and friendly but it also came with a major “Oops moment” for the Florida Department of Health.

In the campaign video, one of the participants said, “The majority of people, in this country, living with HIV are heterosexual.” That statement is factually incorrect. It’s factually incorrect and yet in all the reviews and post-production, that glaring mistake still got by everyone in the Florida Health Department. How did that happen?

Here is the most accurate information from the Centers for Disease Control:

 

At the end of 2006, more than half (53%) of all people living with HIV in the United States were MSM (men who have sex with men) or MSM-IDU (IV drug users). Since the beginning of the US epidemic, MSM have consistently represented the largest percentage of persons diagnosed with AIDS and persons with an AIDS diagnosis who have died.
Now, to their credit, the Florida Department of Health took swift action when this inaccuracy was brought to their attention. Their efforts to address the issue and reedit the video are commendable. The old video is no longer online and the new reedit is up and running and can be seen below. It’s always worth noting when a department of public health realizes they made a mistake and takes steps to rectify the situation. I applaud the efforts of the Florida Department of Health and in no way do I want to take away from the value of this wonderful campaign.

But the question still remains. How did this get by a department of health and why does it matter that it did?

Jessica Hammonds, the Press Secretary for the Florida Department of Health, referred to the mistake as a “slip up” which they have now corrected. But I can’t help wonder what if this had never been brought to their attention? I understand that no department of health wants to dwell on its mistakes but I believe this is a perfect opportunity for a teachable moment. Why does it matter if the majority of people living with HIV in the US are gay and bisexual / Men who have sex with men (MSM)?

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