Safe sex advocates claimed a victory over Australia’s Christian lobby on Wednesday when their HIV campaign posters featuring two men hugging were reinstated at bus stops after an intense online backlash.
The black and white posters, in which one man has his arm draped across his partner’s chest and is holding a condom, are part of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities "Rip and Roll" campaign promoting condom use.
The ads were withdrawn by billboard company Adshel after it received a string of complaints, but the company later reversed this decision, saying it had unwittingly been targeted by the Australian Christian Lobby.
"This has led us to review our decision to remove the campaign and we will therefore reinstate the campaign with immediate effect," Adshel chief executive Steve McCarthy said in a statement.
Healthy Communities executive director Paul Martin said that Australians were generally supportive of gay rights, and that he had been heartened by the public backlash against the decision to remove the posters.
"Most people don’t have a problem with gay people," he said.
By late Wednesday some 40,897 people had joined a Facebook page called "Homophobia — NOT HERE" created by one of the men featured in the posters, and protesters had held an afternoon rally outside Adshel’s Brisbane office.
Australian Christian Lobby Queensland director Wendy Francis said she had personally complained about the ads because she had objected to what she said was the sexual nature of the posters.
"They show two young homosexual men in some sort of act of foreplay," she said. "It’s talking about a sexual act and I don’t think that’s appropriate for the general public."
But Queensland State Treasurer Andrew Fraser rejected her comments.
"Check the calendar, it’s 2011," he said. "I think we should call it for what it is and this is basic homophobia."
Healthy Communities said that more people were diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 2010 than at any time since the mid-1980s and it was therefore important to discuss safe sex.