(Photo: Screenshot/My Fox DFW)
Local residents in Dallas, Texas, are critical of a recent billboard encouraging HIV and AIDS testing, arguing that it promotes homosexuality.
The billboard in question was created by the Dallas County Health and Human Services as a part of the ad campaign by the nonprofit advocacy group Greater Than AIDS, and sits on a busy intersection in south Dallas, near highway 67.
The ad features African-American men in an embrace with the words "Update Your Status" on the side of the board, along with local contact information on how to get tested for HIV in Dallas.
Local councilwoman Vonciel Jones-Hill wrote in an email to local news station KDFW Fox 4 that she objects to the billboard because it "[presents] African American men who are homosexuals as acceptable."
Jones-Hill said in the email that the advertisement conveys several messages for the public, including "presenting African American men who are homosexuals as acceptable, engaging in such conduct presents health risks, feel free to continue what you are doing but protect your health," according to KDFW Fox 4.
Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, told KDFW Fox 4 in response to councilwoman Jones-Hill's comments that he believes the billboard communicates a very clear message about the importance of HIV/AIDS testing.
"The message is very clear," told the local news station.
"The message is: Among African American men who have sex with men the rate of HIV new cases is at an epidemic proportion," Thompson added.
Additionally, Thompson told CBS DFW that the goal of the ad campaign is to target those most affected by HIV in the county; the local news station notes that African Americans account for 49 percent of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in the county.
"You have to target the population where you see the disease," Thompson told CBS DFW.
"The billboard is a way to get the attention, not only for individuals to get tested, but awareness in the African American community regarding the HIV rates," he added.
According to The Dallas Morning News, Dallas sits at the top of the state's list for the county with the highest HIV transmission rates.
Additionally, the African American male population in Dallas is contracting HIV/AIDS at a disproportionately higher rate than other races, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the reason as to why HIV/AIDS rates are so much higher among the black community, those following the trend suggest one reason may be because of the negative social stigma that is attached to homosexual behavior in the black community, and therefore those participating in homosexual sex neglect to get tested for HIV/AIDS.
"The stigma of even testing for HIV is very high," Bret Camp, the Texas regional director for the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told The Dallas Morning News.
Regardless of the reasons behind the billboard, some in the Dallas community remain skeptical of the public announcement, whether it is for religious reasons, as in Jones-Hill's case, or for other reasons.
"Why isn't it an interracial couple? Because that doesn't mean only African American has AIDS, it means everyone should be tested, whatever race you are," one Dallas woman told CBS DFW.
Councilwoman Jones-Hill has previously cited her Christian faith as the reason she opposes homosexuality, saying in an interview with the Dallas Voice in 2009 that she would not be attending the city's gay pride parade due to her beliefs.
"I believe that all people are loved by God, all people are created equal under God, but there are acts that God does not bless," Jones-Hill said at the time.
"It does not mean the person is any less God's child. I'm entitled to stand for what I believe, and I don't appreciate anyone castigating me for standing for what I believe," she added.
Dallas' Greater Than Aids advocacy campaign has also sought to communicate to the public through radio advertisements, and has included advertisements featuring celebrities such as singer Alicia Keys to promote the importance of HIV/AIDS testing in the community.