Fighting HIV with Stigma: A Failed Tactic


Since the 1980s, the fight against HIV/AIDS has gained global attention. Although, as the struggle to control the virus has become increasingly more visible, people living with HIV/AIDS have also face increased stigmatization, often encouraged by prevention campaigns meant to help.

Translation: She has HIV. Slut? A test to detect HIV during pregnancy will save your child from being born maked

In late December of last year, Fundación México Vivo launched an HIV prevention campaign encouraging pregnant women to get tested. Based on the alarmingly high number of Mexican women unknowingly passing the virus to their child, whether at birth or later through breastfeeding, Fundación México Vivo’s campaign used images of children paired with slurs in an effort to scare women into inquiring about their status.

However, facing accusations of misogyny and homophobia from women’s groups, gay men’s groups, and other HIV/AIDS organizations, Fundación México Vivo was pressured to remove its ads.

“Scaring mothers-to-be with the thought that their sons or daughters could be labeled gay or lesbian if they’re born with HIV reinforces the myth that HIV/AIDS is only a gay disease,” says Oriol Gutiérrez, editor in chief of Tu Salud Magazine and deputy editor of Poz Magazine.

Translation: He has HIV. F*g? A test to detect HIV during pregnancy will save your child from being born maked

Fundación México Vivo eventually apologized for the campaign through a press release saying,“we offer our most sincere and heartfelt apology to any person who may have been offended through our campaign, since in no moment in time as an organization has it been our intention. We infinitely thank all the constructive criticisms, since it is only through dialogue that we can jointly find solutions to problems so embedded in our society.”

However, according to Gutiérrez, the damage may have already been done.

“Despite good intentions, HIV media campaigns can sometimes have negative consequences,” say Gutiérrez. “Some people believe that using fear as prevention or stigma as prevention works. Even if there is short-term impact, which I’m not convinced, I don’t believe those tactics are worth it in the long term.”

For instance, media campaigns that use homophobic stigma to prevent the spread of HIV may actually deter people from getting tested in the first place.

Translation: He has HIV. Drug addict? A test to detect HIV during pregnancy will save your child from being born maked

“Homophobia contributes to HIV stigma because the myth that HIV/AIDS is only a gay disease is so widespread,” says Gutierrez. “Instead of homophobic HIV media campaigns, we could use campaigns that focus on breaking down the ‘AIDS equals gay’ myth. If people believe they will be labeled gay or a bad person just for getting tested for HIV, then they won’t get tested. The same goes with seeking treatment or other support. As a result, stigma can actually kill people.”

This is incredibly important as the face of HIV/AIDS is quickly changing in the US, from a disease that predominantly affected gay men living in large cities to one affecting all people, across all gender, sexuality, ethnic and racial lines.

Understanding that tackling a complex problem, such as HIV/AIDS, requires similarly complex solutions is critical to preventing the spread of the virus.

“As a member of the media, I am well aware that media outlets like a one-size-fits-all approach to most things. When it comes to HIV media campaigns, one-size-fits-all doesn’t work,” says Gutiérrez. “The demographics of the disease demand that HIV media campaigns be tailored to specific audiences. Doing so may help avoid some problematic messaging, but not all. The only thing that will really keep a check on homophobic and stigmatizing messaging in HIV media campaigns is being vigilant.”

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Danny Olvera

The queer femme first-born of Mexican immigrant parents, Danny is no stranger to sticking out. A native Chicagoan, with a complicated relationship with LA and San Antonio, Danny can be found dancing arhymically on the dance floors of a queer Latin@ nightclub near you.

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