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Backlash Against HIV/AIDS Billboard In Dallas

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - More than 14 thousand people living in Dallas County are living with HIV and many of them don’t even know it.

The county health department is tackling the public health threat head on, with an aggressive ad campaign that is raising some eyebrows.

A new set of billboards, purposely placed along heavily trafficked sections of Oak Cliff and south Dallas, show an African-American black gay couple side by side with the message “Update Your Status.”

The ads do not sit well with one Dallas City Council member.  According to an email sent by Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill, the billboard touts “African American men who engage in homosexual conduct as acceptable.”

However, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thomspon says the billboards are not promoting a lifestyle but targeting those who are most impacted.

“You have to target the population where you see the disease,” said Thompson.  “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.”

In Dallas County, African-Americans account for 49% of all new AIDS and HIV diagnoses.  Blacks lead the list of ethnic and racial groups living with HIV and AIDS, and most HIV infections come from men having sex with men.

AIDS outreach specialist Markelse Jordan says the billboard is simply a mirror.

“It’s important for people to see themselves, ‘Oh, that’s me on that billboard…someone I know,’ Reach people where they are,” said Jordan.

On the street, the billboard means different things to different people.

“If it’s the highest percentage in the county, I don’t have a problem. It’s there for a reason,” said one Dallas man.

But a Dallas woman had a different view.  “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,” she said.

CBS 11’s calls to council member Jones Hill have not been returned.

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