Supporters Hope Private Donors Will Pay to Restore St. Louis AIDS Billboards Ordered Taken Down by Mayor
Supporters of the HIV/AIDS awareness billboards that St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay on Tuesday ordered taken down hope that private donors eventually will pay to repost them, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Blacks Assisting Blacks Against AIDS Director Erise Williams said yesterday that his group and others in the not-for-profit coalition that received a $64,000 federal grant for the signs will try to collect $30,000 in private donor contributions. He said that the billboard campaign was implemented to inform African Americans about HIV/AIDS because other traditional programs had failed. Slay and acting city health director Michael Thomas ruled that nine of the 18 signs "could be offensive to some residents" and ordered that they be replaced by other anti-AIDS messages (Schlinkmann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/20). One of the billboards in question features two shirtless black men in an embrace with the caption: "Before loving begins, get tested. Know your HIV status." Slay's Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford said, "That may be appropriate for a magazine, that may be appropriate for a newspaper, but that's not appropriate for a residential neighborhood," adding that Slay "agrees with the message of the billboards, but the way that message was communicated is what is inappropriate." The boards were approved by two city health department employees before posting but were not approved by Thomas (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/19). Williams said, "We feel betrayed in a sense. We have put a lot of hard work into trying to find innovative ways to reach people with this life-saving message," adding that "homophobia and possibly racism" may have been involved in the decision (Schlinkmann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.