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One of Queensland’s biggest stories in the past week was the furore over the Rip and Roll ad campaign. The safe sex ads showing two men, fully clothed, hugging and holding a condom, were removed by ad company Adshel under pressure from the Australian Christian Lobby. After a storm of protest Adshel reinstated the ads.

Adshel have now undertaken to run the ads for a further two weeks without charge, a further indication that the ACL protest has well and truly backfired.

It’s a story that speaks of many things – denial, conservatism, moral values. It is also a story of new media triumphing over old. 30,000-plus Facebook members condemned the ban (stack that up against the 47 complaints that prompted the ad’s removal). In Saturday’s Courier Mail (Queensland’s main daily newspaper) the only two letters to the editor on the subject spoke against the Rip and Roll campaign. They referred to ‘parents not wanting their children exposed to rubbish’, ads ‘promoting the gay lifestyle’, and suggested an ad showing two men hugging was as disgusting as an ad for tampons.

Indeed. Does this mean that only very conservative people read newspapers? Or that only very conservative people write to newspapers? Or that only very conservative people run the Courier Mail?

Most likely the latter is true, judging from an item in the same paper by columnist Des Houghton. He claims that the Rip and Roll ads were designed to turn us gay – why else would they have been placed in front of a ‘predominantly heterosexual audience’? As we know, gay people are or should be restricted to certain areas such as Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and Sydney’s Kings Cross, not roaming around respectable neighbourhoods.

Houghton goes on to claim that the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities (QAHC), who ran the Rip and Roll campaign, were considering an alternative billboard featuring the words ‘Our God loves everyone gay & straight’. Not true: this digital billboard was put up by Adshel’s competitor Goa Billboards (whose name clearly appears in the photo used in Houghton’s column) following the Rip and Roll controversy.

Goa MD Chris Tyquin said he supported Adshel’s decision to reinstate their advertisements: ‘We live in a diverse community where freedom of speech is valued.’

‘The ACL’s claim that these men are engaging in an act of foreplay is drawing a long bow. If that’s foreplay, then clearly I’m doing it wrong.’ Tyquin said.

You and me both.

I just hope that the wave of media attention will spark off a longer-term debate and awareness that our norms have shifted. Our world is home to male and female, gay and straight, and the safe sex message is urgently needed.

In 2010, more people were diagnosed with HIV than at any time since the 1980s. Almost two-thirds of those people were gay men (though it’s worth keeping in mind that almost a third were exposed through heterosexual contact). The safe sex message can save lives. It matters.


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