The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s controversial F*ck w/out Fear campaign to raise awareness about the PrEP drug is helping the City of West Hollywood achieve its goal of zero HIV transmissions. The marketing campaign may be causing ire for its use of a curse word, but it’s also getting people talking and getting people on PrEP, so the end result is worth it. That was the message coming from the West Hollywood City Council meeting on Monday night as several councilmembers and the public discussed the campaign.
“If you have seen maybe what some of us saw during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, you would know that we didn’t reach the place that we are without being irascible, unreasonable, confrontive, bellicose, rude, overly assertive, aggressive, in your face about the transmission of HIV and its prevention,” said Councilmember John Duran, a longtime AIDS activist who is HIV positive. “It was because of that attitude and that posture that we managed to not only change medical care in this country, but we were able to develop drugs that now exist that are saving people’s lives. If people are feeling some discomfort around this campaign, that means it’s working. We need to cause some discomfort.”
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug regimen that is proven to reduce the risk of HIV infection by as much as 99%. It requires taking daily a blue pill called Truvada. The drug has been around for about five years, but is not widely known, especially among those most at risk for contracting HIV – young gay and bisexual men, African-American and Latino gay/bisexual men and transgender women.
Jim Key, director of marketing for the L.A. LGBT Center, told the Council that the number of people who have gotten on PrEP since their aggressive, in-your-face F*ck w/out Fear campaign began in early January has doubled each week.
“No other PrEP campaign has been this successful,” Key said. “By granting us permission to promote the campaign on sidewalks, [the City of West Hollywood is] saving us tens of thousands of dollars that can go to services and care rather than to advertising and you’re promoting PrEP, helping to protect countless people from HIV.”
Last week, murals for the F*ck w/out Fear campaign were painted on the sidewalks in several places in Boystown, the city’s LGBT entertainment district, and immediately sparked conversation and controversy over the use of the F-word, even though an asterisk is substituted for the “u.”
“If an asterisk can change the way this pill is perceived, I honestly think it’s just something that needs to be there,” said Jimmy Palmieri, who serves on the city’s Human Services Commission. “It really confuses me that when we have a campaign that is possibly in your face, but causing discussion, why anybody can be against it. Maybe they haven’t seen what gay men went through and what folks with HIV went through years before.”
Brian Risley, director of programs at WeHo’s Men’s Health Foundation, believes raising awareness is ultimately a good thing.
“The good news is that strong social marketing campaigns can create healthy dialogues,” Risley told the Council, “but the bad news is it can create misconceptions.”
Within days of the sidewalk murals’ debut, several of them were defaced. The “F*ck” portion of the mural near Yogurt Stop shop was covered with paper while the “F*ck” on several others was spray painted over. On March 31, sheriff’s deputies arrested Francis O’Brien, a Los Angeles resident, charging him with felony vandalism of the murals.
However, this marketing campaign and the vandalism have been widely ignored by most media outlets.
“I think it has not received more mainstream press because they are not quite sure what to do with the salty language,” suggested Councilmember John D’Amico, who is also HIV positive. “You can’t report on salty language without reporting salty language.”
Councilmember John Heilman is glad the City Council approved the sidewalk mural campaign.
“It’s critical that we do everything in our power to stop the spread of HIV and PrEP is one very important tool in the tool box,” Heilman said. “PrEP is right for a lot of people, and we want to continue to encourage and push everyone where it’s appropriate to get on that so we can stop the spread of HIV.”
Duran emphasized that the city’s zero HIV transmission goal, adopted several years ago, is achievable.
“If [the F*ck w/out Fear campaign] makes you uncomfortable, I’m sorry,” Duran said, “but we’re going to get there [to zero transmission] one way or the other.”
Health organizations promoting PrEP also recommend that men use condoms to further reduce HIV transmission risk and the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases.
Larry, you are comparing formal city meetings to what people see outside gay bars, and an ad campaign that is mostly targeting younger gay men. There’s a huge difference between those two things.
Let’s get real, it’s all big B.S until our city leaders will start acting and stop talking nothing will change, as if the word F is going to make a difference. We need to Wake up, WEHO. Being politically correct doesn’t mean it’s correct.
Trying to understand, the council passes a rule for ‘decorum’ where the word f–k or other curse words are against the code of conduct for anybody speaking during public comment but we are allowed to project the f–k word all over the sidewalks to see for everybody.
Jim C., Descovy is indeed going through an FDA trial, and I am a participant. I have other friends who are as well. It is a “blind trial,” where we take two pills a day. One is either Descovy or Truvada, the other is a placebo. Only Gilead knows what we are taking (not even those administering the trial know). I believe we have at least another 15 to 18 months to go on this, and then I’m not sure how long it would take to get FDA approval. I’m guessing that if this drug is proven to be successful,… Read more »
Jeffery Ward: Ditto
I am the only one who notes the irony that we are celebrating “F*ck w/o Fear” while the City Council has been afraid that putting up banners proclaiming the westside of WeHo as “Boys’ Town” as that might be “offensive” to some people. Back in the day “Boys Town” is what made this City viable and put West Hollywood on the map. Given the skyrocketing STD rates in Los Angeles it seems like a lot of us have been f*cking without fear long before this slogan was painted on the sidewalks. Will PrEP make us fearless or foolish? I am… Read more »
I agree with you 100%. Steve, when people of money running our lives this what we get. When you change Nothing, Nothing change. Most gay men in West Hollywood see a condoms as a bad thing, “it’s not fun.” But the facts are our STD’s # are up. AIDS? It’s money making illnesses that make lots of people very rich. PrEP is People choice, but most gay men who use Meth and we have a huge # in our city, they don’t care. Even if the had the pill or they forget to take it or even worst they sell… Read more »
Having been a resident of WeHo for almost 39 years, I’ll say it again: BOYSTOWN IS DEAD!!! What it is now is a FAR cry from what it was. When you could honestly say it was Boystown. I think the people who still insist on using that misnomer, have been here but a scant few years and have no personal frame of reference.
IMO, if you are offended when the whole word is not even spelled out then you might be hanging around the wrong area, a notoriously gay area that is nicknamed “BOYSTOWN,” is classified an ‘entertainment district’ by the municipality it belongs to and frequented by young and older adults alike, looking for fun and excitement and, yes, SEX! This is not Disneyland and a lot of us residents are actually tired of people that want to make it that way, this is Boystown, where gay people have congregated for decades for fun and safety, stop trying to make it something… Read more »
There is so much I want to say about this campaign, that I am having trouble expressing myself. Here goes: Having lived 70 miles from NYC from 1975-80 and using it as my periodic playground and next – taking my first post graduation job in San Francisco, I experienced sexual escapades that were incredibly fun, and off the chart when it comes to being ‘reasonable’. Things like gonorrhea or syphilis or hepatitis or… were treated like a small cut or skinned knee.and not really part of the general discussion. Many went undiagnosed and untreated. Some of those infectees are or… Read more »
This will do nothing. No one looks at them when the streets are busy and the bars are packed. I think there could have been another way.to get the message out.
If the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) used the word F*ck in any of their campaigns, almost everyone would be all over them in a New York minute. And, yes, I know that AHF is not a fan of PrEP. Just look at their ad on the right of this page.
“F*ck w/out Fear” caught my attention and caused me to react and take note of its “product” on day one of the campaign. Still, months later, the “F*ck w/out Fear” campaign continues to catch my attention and causes the same, best described as almost chemical, internal reaction. Maybe I’m too creative in my definition, but for a printed phrase to have such an affect more than once, to me, is very creative.
Another non-creative answer.