AIDS group’s Castro billboards with Dr. King’s image have whites-only feel

by Allen Jones

Regardless of one’s sexual orientation, Blacks should think of AIDS more than the average person. Clearly, report after report does a good job at reminding and warning the Black community that AIDS is not yet under control for the Black population., AIDS group’s Castro billboards with Dr. King’s image have whites-only feel, Local News & Views
In San Francisco, these billboards are in the Castro but not in Bayview Hunters Point.

However, when I saw several new 6-foot-by-4-foot billboard ads in the Castro district of San Francisco this past week with the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. under the heading, “AIDS is a civil rights issue.” I first thought, “Well, that’s a stretch.”

Technically, I get it. But I view civil rights as a traffic signal that is always green. Therefore, if the light is yellow or red, it is not civil rights. As a Black homosexual, I simply do not see a green light in the fight against AIDS. The good news is that along with other public health issues, AIDS is in an ambulance with the sirens blaring.

So why am I upset with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, which sponsored this billboard campaign? I think it is yet another tasteless and reprehensible attempt to sell golden anniversary civil rights bandwagon tickets, when a ticket is not even needed to come aboard.

As part of a campaign launched in February 2014 for the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a nationwide series of “AIDS Is a Civil Rights Issue” town halls spearheaded by AHF took place. The keynote speaker at the recent Selma town hall was the Rev. Al Sharpton.

When it comes to getting the word out on anything AIDS related, I agree with the philosophy of one of my sisters: “Whatever it takes.”

However, I can’t help but to see something quite disturbing about connecting AIDS with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Selma march and the Civil Rights Act 50 years later.

For one, it’s quite nervy to promote services for those suffering from AIDS by using the iconic image of Dr. King standing in front of signs that clearly show several pickets signs on the fight for equality, jobs and voting rights. Never mind the many miles marched by Whites alongside Blacks. No such billboard appears in the Black community of San Francisco, where information from AHF and their free AIDS related assistance programs would be appreciated.

Therefore, I am to assume that this is either an oversight by AHF or that someone is just using the image of Dr. King. In addition, there are more appropriate historical figures who could campaign for AHF without appearing, in my opinion, Jim Crowish, as this message appears to be.

You can’t just use the image of this iconic civil rights figure without someone questioning your motive. Separate but equal is when you say AIDS is a civil rights issue for all, but the message is delivered by an iconic Black figure, only in a White “diverse” neighborhood.

As of March 14, 2015, none of these billboards with the image of Dr. King appear along Third Street in an effort to educate the Black community of Bayview Hunters Point. Much less that AHF has the back of Blacks suffering from AIDS by offering free AIDS related help.

According to the AHF website, “ is a sexual health resource for free STD testing, treatment and information launched by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest provider of HIV/AIDS care in the U.S. AHF provides cutting edge medicine and advocacy in 31 countries worldwide, regardless of ability to pay.” Must Blacks with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco have to go into the Castro where these billboards appear to learn help is in San Francisco for them?

Must Blacks with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco have to go into the Castro where these billboards appear to learn help is in San Francisco for them?

Common sense says that it is only a matter of time before the new and more aggressive forms of AIDS, currently in Cuba, begins to appear in America if no cure is found sooner. Therefore, we too need to be aggressive in providing as much billboard space as possible to update people on any related subjects.

Meanwhile, at the age of 58, I just learned of ocular syphilis from AHF. It is not a new STD, but we should all know that ocular syphilis can cause blindness.

The AHF and LA County health officials are sending out warnings for people who may be at risk to get regular check-ups and know the facts on ocular syphilis. In San Francisco, an increase in this disease is being reported as a “cluster.” And since December 2014, someone in the city has already lost sight in one eye due to this STD.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is a fine and caring foundation, dedicated to helping anyone suffering from AIDS. However, if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught me anything, it was to speak up, not shut up.

I first sent my concerns with a photo of one of the billboards to three members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for comment, and they all declined to comment.

However, you can’t convince me that an organization’s use of Dr. King’s image and claim that AIDS is a civil rights issue should not be viewed with skepticism. The placement of the billboard message alone suggests it’s for Whites only to see.

San Francisco writer Allen Jones, author of “Case Game: Activating the Activist,” can be reached at 415-756-7733 or He chronicles City Hall racism on his website,