The Philadelphia Department of Public Health got caught in the crosshairs this week when a local gay leadership group lodged complaints about the violent scenario in a recent ad campaign targeting African-American men.  The campaign encouraged HIV testing, targeted gay, bisexual and "down low" men and featured images of African-American men in the crosshairs of a gun with the tagline "Have You Been Hit?" (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Black Gay Men's Leadership Council objects to the direct association of black men with gun violence in a city plagued with increasing rates of gun violence, especially among the African-American population.

"Putting the face of a black man in the crosshairs of a gun paints a damaging message about violence and black men. ... Given the violence perpetrated against gay men, it is not far-fetched to see how this campaign fosters violence," Lee Carson, chair of the 1-year-old leadership council, wrote last month to interim Health Commissioner Carmen Paris.

Amidst concerns over the legitimacy of the campaign's use of focus groups and embarrassment about the associatio, the city is being rather weasley about the reason for pulling the ads, indicating that the pull date just happened to be last Friday.  The PR departments of various media outlets indicated otherwise, stating that there was no cancellation date. 

Philadelphia's seemingly intractable crisis of gun violence has gotten so bad -- particularly in poor, predominantly minority neighborhoods -- that Mayor John Street and regional leaders, including Cardinal Justin Rigali, held an unprecedented summit meeting at City Hall late last month. As of midnight Sunday, 238 people had been fatally shot, compared with 215 at the same time last year.

But HIV/AIDS hits the same neighborhoods. Originally the plague of young, middle-class, gay men, HIV/AIDS now predominantly afflicts the marginalized poor, especially African Americans. Blacks account for more HIV and AIDS diagnoses and deaths than any other racial or ethnic group in Philadelphia and nationally.

File this under WTF?  In a city where too many people die from gun violence AND AIDS, why would you associate the two ---- why surely African-American men might have a postive assocation with being the target of gun violence and immediately run down to the nearest HIV testing center!  And it certainly does wonders for the images of HIV positive people to be linked to gun violence. 

Mark McLaurin, founder of the New York State Black Gay Network, said that, to be effective, AIDS prevention campaigns must address underlying problems such as homophobia and substance abuse - and stop fear-mongering.

"I can't imagine the vetting process was well-grounded in this targeted community," he said of Philadelphia's ads. "Above and beyond the obvious issues of scapegoating and demonizing HIV-positive people, for a campaign to simulate gun violence in a city that has been ravaged by gun violence, I'm almost speechless."