September 19, 2001

St. Louis Mayor Orders AIDS Ad Removed

By JOE STANGE, Associated Press Writer  from The Los Angeles Times


ST. LOUIS -- The mayor ordered the removal of nine taxpayer-funded billboards aimed at raising AIDS awareness, including eight that show two shirtless black men embracing with the caption, "Brothers Loving Brothers Safely."

Mayor Francis Slay said Tuesday the billboards were inappropriate. Slay's chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, said it was unclear whether the men in the billboards were engaging in sex acts.

The billboards were among about 18 in a campaign that cost $64,000, which came from a federal grant administered by the city. The ninth sign showed a rolled-up condom.

"That may be appropriate for a magazine, that may be appropriate for a newspaper, but that's not appropriate for a residential neighborhood," said Rainford.

Rainford said the city is acting only because the billboards were publicly funded. Otherwise, he said, "it wouldn't be any of our business."

The billboards were approved by two "low-level" city health employees, he said. City Health Department director Mike Thomas was the first to call for the four billboards' removal.

One group in the campaign, Blacks Assisting Blacks Against AIDS in St. Louis, called the billboards "bold and innovative."

"If you're going to really support HIV ... prevention, don't succumb to the complaints or political pressure of a few people," group director Erise Williams told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Rainford said he didn't find the signs offensive, "but I think the little old ladies in our neighborhoods find them very offensive."