AIDS agency calls Grindr a diseased ‘digital bathhouse’

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The AIDS Healthcare Foundation – the combative agency that “joined forces” with AID Atlanta this summer – is sparking controversy by blaming Grindr and other sex apps for a rise in STDs with new roadside billboards.

The billboard campaign, launched Sept. 18 in Los Angeles, features a silhouette of a gay couple with “Grindr” over one head and “gonorrhea” over the other. The billboard also takes a swipe at Tinder by linking it to chlamydia. The ad promotes AHF's STD testing the campaign but has generated controversy, prompting Grindr to drop AHF advertising and resulted in legal threats from Tinder.

“Mobile dating apps are rapidly altering the sexual landscape by making casual sex as easily available as ordering a pizza,” Whitney Engeran-Cordova, a senior director in AHF's public health division, said in a press release.

“In many ways, location-based mobile dating apps are becoming a digital bathhouse for millennials wherein the next sexual encounter can literally just be a few feet away—as well as the next STD. While these sexual encounters are often intentionally brief or even anonymous, sexually transmitted diseases can have lasting effects on an individual’s personal health and can certainly create epidemics in communities at large. We want to remind sexually active adults—especially young people—how easy it can be to contract an STD and the importance of undergoing regular screenings to protect their sexual health,” the statement added.

Grindr fired back by dropping the foundation's ads for free STD testing, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We were surprised at the approach [the foundation] took, and paused the campaign in order to speak with them and assess our relationship,” Grindr said about cutting the ads.

Grindr says it has always been concerned with the issues of men's health by providing educational campaigns, conducting research on healthcare issues affecting the gay community and partnering with health organizations on national studies. The app has devoted a section of its website to health issues and runs public service announcements encouraging testing in its app, Grindr says.

“As one of the world’s largest gay platforms, we take this issue very seriously,” Grindr said. “At the end of the day, we are all on the same side in this issue, and strive to work with our partners and advocacy groups to achieve similar goals. A more connected and informed gay community is a better thing for us all.”

Tinder responded by saying that the billboard ads wrongly associate the app with STDs and demanding AHF take down them down. The agency refused.

“These unprovoked and wholly unsubstantiated accusations are made to irreparably damage Tinder’s reputation in an attempt to encourage others to take an HIV test by your organization,” Tinder attorney Jonathan Reichman said in a letter to the foundation.

Michael Weinstein – AHF's controversial president who has dismissed PrEP as a “party drug” and been labeled “the Enfant Terrible” of AIDS activism – said “we'd rather work with them than fight” Grindr and Tinder, according to CNN Money.

Yet the highly publicized AHF campaign seems less about pointing people to STD testing and more about Weinstein's AHF being the moralistic sex police and its continuing efforts to shame gay men who get laid. It's no secret that unsafe sex can lead to STDs and that Grindr and other cruise apps make it easier for some to have sex. But AHF seems to be less interested in helping gay men than shaming and judging them all the while generating headlines and a fresh round of publicity for Weinstein.

It is, after all, the same Weinstein and AHF that continues its assault on PrEP – with the help of LGBT publications – while producing cringe-worthy STD prevention videos and targeting sex film actors by subpoenaing STD testing centers for their private medical files. The organization is also behind efforts to put a ballot measure before California voters requiring condom use in porn.

When Tinder objected to the provocative billboards, AHF's chief counsel, Laura Boudreau,offered this:

“Rather than trying to chill AHF’s public health message by threatening AHF with frivolous lawsuits, AHF urges Tinder to support its message of sexual health awareness by encouraging Tinder users to get tested for STIs and to get treated promptly if they have an infection.”

Which is ironic, given the history of Weinstein and AHF in suing local providers and public health officials.

The campaign began last month with a dozen billboards and 45 bus benches in Los Angeles. The foundation also plans to post the billboards in New York City, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. But AHF appears to be sparing Atlanta, where it “joined forces” with AID Atlanta this summer in a secretive deal that offered few public details on what the affiliation means for the Atlanta agency that has grown to become the largest AIDS service organization in the Southeast.

[CNN Money | Edge | Washington Post | Los Angeles Times | The Wrap| Reuters]

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