Riders outraged by downtown bus depot drug ad

An advertisement at the Hampton Roads Transit Transfer Center in Norfolk that encourages people to get tested for HIV and STDs is causing controversy for a number of people.

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Some people in Downtown Norfolk say an advertising campaign, displayed at the Hampton Roads Transit bus terminal, goes too far.

One side of the ad on the building shows a person at a table in front of a syringe, pill bottle and a bong. If you walk to the opposite side of the downtown building you will see some writing for the ad promoting getting tested for STD’s.

Pamela Jordan, who rides the bus several times a week and visits the Downtown bus terminal, said it is upsetting to see the drug paraphernalia separate from the writing explaining what the advertisement is.

"Put a sign up that says, 'Don’t do drugs.' Don’t put an advertisement up there of someone getting high and then don't have writing up there saying, 'Don’t do this, you might get AIDS' or something," said Jordan.

PHOTOS: Depot drug ad displayed at Downtown Norfolk HRT bus terminal

She said at first glance, the drug paraphernalia is all you see and the ad could send the wrong message to people on the Downtown building.

"It's already a lot of addicts and mental people hanging around here as it is. It's just like an invitation. 'Come on over here and get high,' that's what it says to me," said Jordan.

The advertisement is part of a larger campaign by the LGBT Life Center. The ad is meant to raise awareness about getting tested for STDs and HIV. It reads in full:

"Has getting high made you take a risk? Let's get back on track with a free HIV and STD test."

Corey Mohr, PR & Marketing Manager for the LGBT Life Center said the ad encourages everyone to get tested, specifically substance users. 

"We're asking the viewer to consider their behavior lately, particularly their sexual behavior and in a non-judgemental way, asking them if it's made them take a risk," said Mohr. 

But Jordan said the intended message is lost with the picture or drug paraphernalia present on the one side of the building that most people see. She agrees with promoting the message of getting tested, but thinks HRT should have considered how they ad would appear on their building before displaying it.

"Work it, work it right or let it go," said Jordan.

In response to the controversial image, Mohr said the ad clearly wraps around the terminal, so viewers see the whole ad, not just the drug illustration. 

"I don't think that there is anything controversial about an illustration that focuses on an issue that is a real challenge for our community," said Mohr.

Benjamin Romero frequents the bus terminal with his kids and said seeing the advertisement on display may make him reconsider bringing his kids to the area.

“My children come here almost every weekend and we ride the bus to go to the zoo or ride the train. It’s upsetting and I don’t want to see that myself. A lot of people around this neighborhood have a lot of problems, things going on and are struggling,” said Romero.

13News Now received the following statement from HRT Spokesperson Tom Holden about the advertisement and it's positioning on the Downtown building:

"HIV and STDs are serious public health problems. Hampton Roads Transit is providing space for a public health campaign intended to raise awareness that lifestyle choices can have serious consequences." 

Mohr said that the ad encourages individuals to take control of their health.

"The stigma around getting tested alone and then the stigma around substance use is pretty big and it discourages a lot of people from accessing health care," said Mohr.

The full PSA helps put the image into context:

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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