A billboard designed to raise HIV/AIDS awareness in Dallas, Texas has come under scrutiny for featuring a black couple. The billboard is part of the Dallas Is Greater Than AIDS campaign but according to Councilwoman Vonceil Jones-Hill, it’s promoting homosexuality among black men.
In an email to Dallas’ Fox 4, Jones-Hill wrote that the billboard has several messages:
– presenting African American men who are homosexuals as acceptable
– engaging in such conduct presents health risks
– feel free to continue what you are doing but protect your health.
Dallas County has the highest HIV infection rate in all of Texas, so for Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson, there is only one message. “The message is: among African American men who have sex with men the rate of HIV new cases is at an epidemic proportion,” Thompson said.
In Dallas County, 49% of all new HIV infections are among African Americans. Nationwide, the numbers don’t look much better:
- Although Black Americans represent only 12% of the U.S. population,they accounted for 44% of new HIV infections in 2010.
- The rate of new HIV infections per 100,000 among Black adults/adolescents (68.9) was nearly 8 times that of whites (8.7) and more than twice that of Latinos (27.5) in 2010. The rate for Black men (103.6) was the highest of any group, more than twice that of Latino men (45.5), the 2nd highest group. Black women (38.1) had the 3rd highest rate overall, and the highest among women.
- HIV was the 4th leading cause of death for both Black men and Black women, ages 25-44, in 2009, ranking higher than for their respective counterparts in any other racial/ethnic group
Featuring a gay black couple on a billboard in Texas was bound to stir some controversy, but that’s exactly what makes it so effective. Visibility is a key factor in raising awareness so Councilwoman Jones-Hill is just going to have to accept that.