SANTA FE SPRINGS — First, Los Angeles County Health Department officials withdrew funding for an AIDS prevention poster targeted to Latinos, saying its design was too disturbing.
Then the county took more than a year to return artwork for the poster--three white skulls with skeletal hands over the eyes, ears and mouth to illustrate the adage: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
Now, almost two years after the project began, the Rio Hondo Community Action Network is distributing 500 copies of the poster after raising $2,000 for it, said John L. Brown, the group's executive director. The county was to have spent $4,000 to print 20,000 copies of the poster showing the three white skulls against a shocking pink background.
The irony, Brown said, is that a panel of mostly Latino judges selected the poster from more than 300 candidates because of its cultural appeal to Latinos--and county money for Latino AIDS education instead ended up paying for three Spanish-language posters of generic design.
Skulls may be morbid in the Anglo culture, "but in the Hispanic community the skull or calavera is more representative of the soul or spirit rather than the skull and crossbones on an iodine bottle," Brown said.
And since the community action network first presented its skull poster design to the county in spring, 1986, AIDS posters produced in San Francisco and New York have used the skeletal motif to target the Latino community. "It has clearly been the dominant approach," Brown said. "To see this two years later--that was very, very frustrating for us."
David Christy, senior health educator in the Los Angeles County AIDS program office, said county officials believed the design was too much of a scare tactic and lacked an educational message.
He confirmed that the county did not notify the agency about the poster's rejection for about six months and then kept the artwork for another six months. Some confusion might have been due to a change in top management of the office, he said, adding, "I don't know whether it was treated fairly."
The original poster showed the three skulls above the message, "AIDS es SIDA, SIDA es AIDS." SIDA is Spanish for AIDS. Christy said the design did not provide a telephone number or other educational information.
The community action network has since added a telephone number to the poster and modified the bilingual message to read: "The Three Friends: Drugs, Alcohol and AIDS--Learn the Connection."
Brown said people "need right away to know that the first drink can impair their judgment and may lead to experimenting in drugs which can put them at risk for AIDS . . . It is a chain reaction."
This month, the California Office of AIDS decided to pay $3,000 to print 2,500 more copies of the poster for distribution in southeast Los Angeles County and elsewhere in the state, Brown said.
"They had no problem approving it," Brown said. "Who knows how many people might have seen the message in the last two years and might have gotten information to save their lives?"
Although the skull design was approved by a community action network advisory committee on AIDS and a review panel of the federal Centers for Disease Control, Christy said his office received complaints from Latinos who thought the design was insensitive.