A "Know Where You Stand" billboard (The Bay Area Reporter)

The federal government has launched its first targeted effort to reach African-American men who have sex with men about the need to know their HIV status, according to the Bay Area Reporter. The campaign, dubbed "Know Where You Stand," aims to increase HIV testing among black MSM (men who have sex with men) ages 18 to 44.

In 14 cities, billboards display a photo of a young black man accompanied by the message, "Get Tested. Know More." The simplicity of the message is a welcome change from past local efforts to get the attention of gay black males, including one cringe-inducing hip-hop themed campaign whose tagline was "Don't be a b——."

From the Bay Area Reporter:

The Know Where You Stand campaign is part of the multi-pronged, multi-year national public awareness effort known as Act Against AIDS that was launched in 2009. The government is spending $45 million over five years on the campaign, which has numerous parts geared to different demographics.

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… It has been 22 years since the federal government last funded its own nationwide HIV prevention campaign. A significant component of the new effort is aimed at reaching gay and bisexual men because they remain the group most significantly impacted by the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Black gay and bisexual men are the most disproportionately affected by AIDS.

According to a 2008 CDC study, one in five MSM in 21 major U.S. cities were infected with HIV, and nearly half (44 percent) were unaware of their infection. The study also found that 28 percent of black MSM were HIV-infected, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic/Latino MSM and 16 percent of white MSM. Of the HIV-infected black MSM, 59 percent were unaware of their infection.

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"Obviously, the CDC has been concerned for some time about the impact of HIV on African American men who have sex with men in the United States," said Dr. Richard Wolitski, the openly gay deputy director of behavioral and social science at the CDC. "The epidemiological data has really driven our focus on African American men who have sex with men. That and other data really pointed to a need to increase HIV testing in these men."

… The CDC is also conducting research in the black MSM population, he said, but has yet to publish its findings. And a separate campaign focused on Latino MSM is in the works, said Wolitksi.

"Obviously, the most urgent need is African American MSM given the disproportionate rates of infection," he said.

… The simplicity in the new campaign is in stark contrast to the infamous "Homoboy" ads the San Francisco public health department's HIV prevention section unveiled in 2005. In that campaign, the city's first targeted at young black MSM, ads and a website showed young black men decked out in hip-hop attire.

The controversial campaign used the tagline "Don't be a b——," which was meant to encourage the men to not engage in unsafe sex. It provoked mixed reactions among health workers focused on that demographic.

Those behind the CDC's new campaign said there was no need to use visual gimmicks in the advertisements. Rather, they opted for simple designs that convey a powerful message.

Read more at the Bay Area Reporter.

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