Health4Men Gay Drug Use Ad Criticised Apr 16, 2013

Quoted in Mambaonline article:
Tue, 16 April 2013

Gay men’s sexual health services provider Health4Men has been accused of associating the gay community with illegal drug use and of promoting drug abuse.

A controversial advert from the organisation, published in the latest edition of Cape Town’s Pink Tongue newspaper, shows the contents of its ‘drug harm reduction pack,’ which Health4Men offers at no cost.

The pack includes condoms and lube, as well as drug paraphernalia including straws and a card to ‘cut’ lines, and a candle and foil to ‘cook’ drugs.

The advert is titled “between the lines” and advises that “if you use recreational substances make sure you play responsibly – your health is on the line”.

An angry Donovan Steyl contacted Mambaonline about the advert and sent a complaint to SA GLAAD (South African Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).

“I’m really sick and tired of the gay community being painted as drugging sexual deviants,” he said.

“What does this ad say to the youth who have not been exposed to drugs? To me it says ‘Cool….they even give you a card to cut your lines…'” Steyl railed.

In an open letter, Christina Engela of SA GLAAD, asked Glenn De Swardt, Programme Manager of Health4Men, if he does “not realise how it looks when a gay organisation links homosexuality with drug abuse?”

She went on to say: “This advert associates the two, and also lends credibility to the claim made by hostile entities that gay people ‘all’ use drugs… giving them the ammunition to say: ‘of course they do, because even gay health organisations advertise it!’

“Providing clean condoms, needles etc is acceptable…but also foil, gum and candles for ‘cooking’ their drugs? What is next – supplying the drugs to ensure a ‘safe’ source?” Engela asked.

“I think your ad is an unmitigated PR disaster for the LGBT community! Advertising safe sex tips is fine and acceptable – but ‘safe doping’?

“The responsible thing to do is to encourage drug users to get out of drug abuse, not to facilitate and positively reinforce them into continuing to use drugs.

“As this advert stands, it does untold harm to the image of the Pink Community, and also damages the image and credibility of Health4Men as a gay community partner,” Engela added.

She urged Health4Men to “change the advert – and to post a statement to clarify your position on the matter”.

Commenting on Facebook, Russell Chowles defended the advert. “Why have an ostrich mentality…drugs are rife in both gay and straight society – this is not encouraging people to use it’s telling them how to take care when they do….Do you really think telling people not to use will make a difference?” he asked.

Arion Bezuidenhout added: “Educating people to protect themselves even when other choices are wrong is crucial!!!! There is no way to pretend people [don’t] do silly things…”

Gary de Klerk, Editor of The Pink Tongue, declined to comment on the matter. De Swardt also did not respond to our questions about the advert at the time of publishing this article.

What do you think? Is Health4Men addressing the issue of unsafe drug abuse appropriately or is the advert in bad taste. Should the organisation be providing users with drug paraphernalia? Tell us below.

If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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