Every year, something like 6,000 Dallas County residents are diagnosed with HIV, giving us the dubious honor of having the highest infection rate in the state. The statistics are particularly grim for gay black men, who contract the disease at an alarming rate.
Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson knows the score and has launched a public education campaign as part of a broader effort to drive down infection rates. The campaign cuts across lines of age, race, gender, and sexuality. He's been critical of the sex ed curricula in public schools for focusing too heavily on abstinence. Alicia Keys graced billboards encouraging people, namely black women, to get tested. Now, two smiling, gay black men are doing the same.
I don't remember where I spotted the billboard. Somewhere in the vicinity of White Rock, I expect. The one in Fox 4's piece from last night stands over Highway 67 and Red Bird Lane. But wherever you come across it, it sticks in your mind, if only because same-sex black couples are rarely represented in media of any form. That's what makes it effective.
But you can't plaster two gay dudes on a billboard in southern Dallas and expect it to fly with Dallas City Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill. She seems to fear the ad might have a corrupting influence on passersby. In an email to Fox 4's Shaun Rabb, she expressed concern that "African American men who engage in homosexual conduct [are] presented as acceptable" in the ad and that it amounts to an endorsement of homosexuality.
Thompson, meanwhile, who is engaged in a reality-based fight against a deadly scourge, bangs his head against the wall in frustration. "The message is very clear," he told Rabb. "The message is: among African American men who have sex with men the rate of HIV new cases is at an epidemic proportion."