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Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture

America Responds to AIDS

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From 1987 to 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sponsored America Responds to AIDS, a multipart public awareness campaign that focused on reaching a wide range of audiences variously defined by identity or behavior, from heterosexual single mothers, to teenagers of all races, to young adult African Americans, to people who lived in rural areas. The campaign reached millions, becoming a central prong in the “everyone is at risk” strategy of AIDS prevention. It suggested that the best way to respond to HIV/AIDS was to engage in honest conversations about risk behaviors, including the potential consequences of multiple partners, unprotected sex, intravenous drug use, or any activities that compromised the ability to make a sound, safe judgment. Not all applauded the effort. Some, particularly service providers working with groups with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, most notably young men who had sex with men and intravenous drug users, saw the campaign as ignoring the particular needs of these communities in favor of supporting low-risk individuals. While these efforts claimed to reach all Americans, the efforts did not provide necessary outreach and education to those who also needed it.