Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Ad campaign encourages HIV testing among black men


The CDC's new "Testing Makes Us Stronger" HIV prevention campaign aimed at black men who have sex with men launched in six cities, including Oakland last week. (Photo: Courtesy CDC)
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An advertising campaign rolled out this month in the Bay Area provides a new twist on a years-long effort by federal health officials to get more black men who have sex with men to test for HIV.

Under the headline "Testing Makes Us Stronger," the campaign features a diverse range of black gay men, including individuals and couples, in the online, print, and outdoor advertisements. The ads launched in the East Bay on February 6 and have been running on the Bay Area Reporter 's website at

A full-page ad that ran in the B.A.R. 's February 2 issue featured two men holding hands who appeared to be in their 20s. Although it is unclear what their HIV status is, the tagline on the ad states, "Our HIV status is powerful information. It helps us take better care of each other."

The advertisements direct people to the campaign website at, where they can find locations nearby to get tested confidentially for free.

"Far too many black gay and bisexual men, particularly young black gay and bisexual men, continue to contract HIV each year. Too many more may have HIV and remain unaware that they have the infection ," Kali Lindsey, the National Minority AIDS Council's director of legislative and public affairs, told reporters during a conference call in late November held to discuss the new campaign.

Lindsey, who learned he was HIV-positive in 2003, was part of a committee of community leaders, physicians, and other experts that helped create the new advertising.

"If we are to reduce HIV transmission and the growing burden of HIV among black gay and bisexual men, it is critical that we enhance our efforts to reach men who may be unaware of their status and encourage them to get tested for HIV," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is targeting the campaign, which cost $2.4 million, at gay and African-American neighborhoods in six cities where black gay and bisexual men are at greater risk of contracting HIV. In addition to Oakland, the other cities include Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Based on recent data, federal health officials have found "an alarming" 48 percent increase in new HIV infections among young, black MSM 13 to 29 years old from 2006 to 2009. They also have reported that more new infections occur among young black MSM than white MSM aged 13 to 29 and 30 to 39 combined (6,400).

Yet the rising rates do not appear to be due to unsafe sexual behaviors. Research has shown that black gay and bisexual men do not engage in riskier behaviors than other gay men.

Instead, health officials believe they are at higher risk for HIV due to the high prevalence of HIV that already exists in many black and gay communities, increasing a person's likelihood of becoming infected with each sexual encounter.

"Black gay and bisexual men across the country are already doing many of the right things to protect themselves – but more need to make HIV testing a regular part of their lives," stated Kevin Fenton, an openly gay black man who is director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention. "Testing Makes Us Stronger was designed by black gay men for black gay men and strives to communicate the power of knowing your HIV status as a first step toward staying healthy."

This latest advertising push is part of the CDC's Act Against AIDS initiative that was launched in 2009. It marked the first time that the federal agency had developed specialized messaging aimed at black MSM ages 18 to 44.

A campaign dubbed "Know Where You Stand" debuted last spring and featured billboards in 14 cities, including San Francisco and Oakland. It also sought to encourage black MSM to get tested for HIV.

The latest iteration of the campaign was expected to appear in Oakland in late 2011 but ended up being pushed back into the new year. The rollout coincided with this year's National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which took place February 7.

"The campaign was significantly delayed. We are happy it is out," said Ernest Hopkins, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's director of legislative affairs who also served on the CDC committee overseeing the AIDS initiative, in an interview with the B.A.R.

Despite the increased attention in recent years on black MSM, they and African Americans in general continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV. According to the CDC, blacks make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population but account for more than 40 percent of HIV and AIDS cases and deaths.

One in 16 black men will test HIV-positive in their lifetime, the majority of whom will be men who have sex with men. One in 32 black women will acquire HIV.

 Black men account for almost one-third (31 percent) of all new HIV infections in the U.S., according to the CDC. The rate of new HIV infections for black men is more than six times as high as the rate among white men, nearly three times that of Hispanic men and black women.

As part of its effort to turn these numbers around and promote HIV testing, the CDC plans to have a presence at 15 black Pride events this year. The focus on testing ties into the growing body of evidence that one of the best ways to prevent HIV is by treating those with the disease.

Knowing one's HIV status not only can benefit the individual, it can also benefit the greater community through the suppression of viral loads. If a person's HIV infection is undetectable, there is less chance of them transmitting the virus.

The dividends could be particularly beneficial for black men who date other black men, considering that HIV is so prevalent in their community.

It is recommended that sexually active MSM get tested every three to six months.

"Now, while this campaign is just one part of the solution, we're very excited about the role we hope it will play in communicating to black gay and bisexual men that HIV testing makes them safer, wiser and stronger," said Fenton.

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