In 2018, some academics got eleven people who'd worked in the HIV prevention sector in the UK for a two hour discussion* on some of the history.

In this extract, they remember the 'hands' ad. Interestingly, the only one to get much more space is the 'iceberg and tombstone' "Don't die of ignorance' one.

'Ford' is Ford Hickson, part of Sigma Research, responsible for multiple surveys and research projects on gay and bisexual men.

'Lynne' is Lynne Walsh, talking about her time as half of (also known as 'in charge of') the press office for the Health Education Authority (HEA).

'Dominic' is Dominic McVey, talking about having been an HEA researcher. His line elsewhere about "Much of my work involved developing and evaluating the HEA gay and heterosexual public health interventions" accurately shows how much the HEA cared about bisexuals…


Ford: It is the case that any disease outbreak is an opportunity to marginalise the people who are suffering, ignore the structural factors, and the government and lots of people in the country took the HIV epidemic as an opportunity to suppress being gay, not having safe sex, just don't do it, and the things Thatcher said in public really reinforced that. That she thought the way to solve HIV was to not be gay, not to use drugs, and Section 28 is what rode on that. Section 28 for me, it really clearly ties to the HIV epidemic and an opportunity to try and stamp out homosexuals.

Lynne: But we did manage to have a press ad that had two men holding hands.

Dominic: The Bisexual Ad.

Lynne: At the time we called it a bisexual ad.

Dominic: Which went into Time Out and places like that, it wasn't just in the gay press.

Lynne: It went into the Telegraph, it's a visual of two men holding hands and it says, "If a married man has an affair it may not be with a woman." So clearly, Thatcher wouldn't have been delighted with that.

Ford: That's interesting, isn't it? Because who is that targeted at? Isn't that targeted at the wives of men, it's, "Be suspicious of your husband."

Lynne: At the time, the rationale was that it was targeting men who may have sex with men, maybe married to women. We particularly wanted to do some stuff with the Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph as well, not just advertising but to get editorial. That was in the context of the Sunday Times having a massive campaign against us led by Andrew Neil who insisted that there was no heterosexual risk at all. So, whereas we would have been able to run things in the Sunday Times as we did sometimes with the Observer, we had this barrage, every Sunday we had something that was attacking, so that was the context trying to do something.


"At the time" it was a bisexual ad?? It wasn't good, but it couldn't be anything else.

I'm also not convinced about Ford's framing of it as being targetted at wives. There were ads targetted at the female partners of bisexual men, but neither of the versions of the 'hands' ad is.. unless it's to get them to point it out to their partner.

Although he wasn't a co-author of Sigma Research's "Behaviourally Bisexual Men: Identifying needs for HIV prevention", he should also have been aware of it and known that there is a high level of disclosure…


* Published as Nicholls and Rosengarten (eds.) (2019). Witness Seminar: HIV Prevention and Health Promotion in the UK. Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health (EUROPACH).

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