Sunday, November 14, 2010

Billboards - Awareness or Stigma?

One of the reasons I decided to become so vocal about living with HIV is because in my neighborhood of Levittown, PA I don't see any HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. I would only see billboards on 95 when I would travel to the city for my Dr. appointment or for soccer practice but not in my own neighborhood. I have lived here for a little over 5 years and I never seen an AIDS awareness billboard. Until one day this past July I was driving in the car with my partner on RT 413 on the way to my mothers house and caught the word HIV out of the corner of my eye on a billboard. We drove past it too quick for me to read it. I was super excited to see this. I knew we would be passing it again on the way home and all I had to do was remember to look at it.  So when we did pass it on the way home I read the following words.

" You don't have to use IV drugs. 
You could be injecting HIV." 

I was at a loss for words. I thought I was going to see something that was promoting people to get tested or to use condoms. I honestly think that these billboards should be something that humanized HIV/AIDS.  Something that reminds you that HIV/AIDS is still an issue. This billboard left me with a bad feeling. A week after I saw the billboard for the first time I snapped the above photo. The following day it was  removed an replaced with another ad. I have been keeping this photo on my phone so I could blog about it since July.

I am curious to see if my readers think the billboard above promotes Awareness or Stigma ?

In this blog I wanted to introduce you to two of my friends that have used billboards to promote HIV/AIDS awareness with a simple but powerful messages.

My friend Bob Bowers has created this amazing poster contest called "What if it were you ?" What if it Were You? is an HIV/AIDS poster contest designed to inspire youth to cultivate and communicate a more truthful, and inclusive perception of HIV/AIDS, promote prevention and compassion and aid the eradication of youth misconceptions and apathy. What if it Were You? aims to compel youth to recognize and renounce stereotypes and stigma, and dispel misguided beliefs about not being at risk. The contest is intended to empower youth to discover and define their own interpretation of the significance of HIV/AIDS and design a poster using words and/or images to portray their point of view and deliver an HIV prevention message that will be effectively received by their peers. Allowing youth a voice and a means to convey their message will undoubtedly result in communication methods most likely to command the attention of and have the utmost influence on their peers. Some of these amazing posters have been made into billboards and have been seen on buses around the Madison, Wisconsin area. Visit What if it were you ? to see more amazing posters.


About a month ago Tom Donohue founder of Who's Positive announced they will be taking submissions from people infected and affected by HIV and placing 5 billboards similar to the boards they put up when they first launched Who's Positve. More information will be forthcoming, but to submit yourself to be on a billboard in your town email your name, contact information, story and photo to

I would love to create my own billboard campaign one day. It is important that we use all means of advertising to reach people who are living with HIV and those who are unaware of how to protect themselves. I tip my hat to these two gentlemen because what they are doing is saving lives. I am happy to not only call them my friend but also a  fellow warrior in this fight.


  1. " You don't have to use IV drugs.
    You could be injecting HIV." To me that is proof of the ignorance of the world about HIV!!! That is an outrage and sickening. ):

  2. I think that it is kind of rude. I know my son would find it very offensive.. Using HIV to scare people is wrong in so many ways. I look forward to seeing your campaign come to lite.

  3. I can see why they are using this form of prevention for IV users. My sister was a heroin addict and contracted Hepititis via sharing a needle and of course put herself at risk of contracting HIV. I however as an HIV positive person see the other side too. The way it is worded is the issue. It might be more acceptable and prevention promoting if it were to say something like, "Using shared needles to inject narcotics increases your risk of contracting HIV." It points out that IV use puts you at risk but does not state that it is the only thing.

  4. I don't like how they used HIV as a scare tactic. There are lots of things they could have used as a scare tactic where IV drug use is concerned. I also don't like how they have the person posed with their hand over their face like they are ashamed they might have gotten HIV. To answer the stigma or awareness question, yes I think it is adding to stigma instead of helping awareness.

  5. Hello Robert, Even thou we don't share the same views I admit you make interesting points. About this post: Awareness or stigma? I feel that however unfortunate, HIV's strongest suit is fear. Without fear of getting sick or dying nobody would care about HIV or any other disease. But this billboard goes beyond my imagination: what does it imply, that people can get HIV by doing nothing? That's very confusing and really pushing the boundaries of fear, I think. But it's all marketing after all. I find sickening that some people profit from human suffering... HIV drugs should be free for all but that will kill the market, don't you think xXx