Lil Nas X Raises Awareness for HIV in Georgia at VMAs

HIV advocate Mardreques Harris from the Southern AIDS Coalition appeared during the performance wearing the number 433,816, representing the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. South as of 2015. In 2018, there were 54,600 people living with HIV in Georgia. In 2018, 2,501 people were newly diagnosed with HIV.

GLAAD and the Gilead COMPASS Initiative® Coordinating Centers tonight applauded Lil Nas X’s performance of his hit singles “Industry Baby” into “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” during the 2021 MTV VMAs.

Lil Nas X delivered an incredible performance, bringing his iconic music video to the stage. Mardrequs Harris, Southern AIDS Coalition’s Director of Community Investments, participated onstage during the performance. Mardreques wore the number 433,816 in red, representing the universal color of awareness and support for HIV, and the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. South as of 2015, which has increased substantially over the years.

Southern AIDS Coalition is a Coordinating Center for the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®  –  an unprecedented more than $100 million commitment over 10 years to support hundreds of organizations working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States.

Mardrequs adds: “This experience was surreal! Having the opportunity to share the stage with Lil Nas X was something I never would have imagined. And to have him use his platform to raise awareness about HIV stigma is invaluable to our work.”

The VMAs performance follows Lil Nas X’s announcement of the Montero baby registry timed with the September 17 release of his new album ‘Montero.’ Each song on the new album has listed a charity or group that fans can donate to, including 13 HIV organizations that are part of the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®. In its first four years, COMPASS has helped train nearly 14,000 people across the U.S. South to become better advocates, combating HIV stigma and educating communities across the region. COMPASS focuses on providing concentrated investments in the region to reduce HIV-related health disparities, build awareness, advance education, and reduce stigma.

Gilead COMPASS Initiative® organizations on the registry include: The Normal Anomaly (Houston, TX), Thrive SS (Atlanta, GA), Counter Narrative Project (Atlanta, GA), The Bros in Convo Initiative (Orlando, FL), Transinclusive Group (Wilton Manors, FL), Arianna’s Center (South Florida), Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT) (Houston, TX), CH Pier (Greenville, MS), What’s In The Mirror? (Austin, TX), Central Alabama Alliance  Resource & Advocacy Center (Wetumka, AL), Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (GA/IN), Relationship Unleashed (Memphis, TN), and Compassionate Atlanta (GA).

More info on the organizations is available here:

“When public figures like Lil Nas X– particularly those from the U.S. South – use their platforms to communicate HIV facts, it encourages a new generation to join this fight to end this epidemic once and for all,” said Dafina Ward, Executive Director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, a Gilead COMPASS Initiative Coordinating Center. “COMPASS launched four years ago with the belief that those on the front lines of HIV in the Southern United States would work better together, empowering new leaders, reaching members of their communities, and improving their capacity to care for people living with or affected by HIV.”

“Lil Nas X is the perfect artist to engage a national conversation about the role that faith communities can play in challenging long standing norms about the rejection of being LGBTQ as a sin. His music calls us to do the work,” said Dr. Allison Mathews, Executive Director, Wake Forest Divinity Faith Coordinating Center.

“Lil Nas X continues to make music and LGBTQ history, this time by using the iconic VMAs stage to highlight HIV in the U.S. South, where HIV rates and HIV stigma plague our community despite advances in prevention and the fact that people with HIV today lead long, healthy lives and, when on proper medication, cannot transmit the virus,” said DaShawn Usher, Associate Director, Communities of Color at GLAAD.

Southern AIDS Coalition, Wake Forest University’s Faith Coordinating Center, GLAAD, and organizations in the Gilead COMPASS Initiative are also sharing HIV facts tied to Lil Nas X’s VMAs performance and fundraising campaign:

  1. HIV Is a Social Justice and Racial Justice Issue: Black Americans account for more HIV diagnoses (43%) and people living with HIV (42%) than any other racial and ethnic group in the U.S. Black Americans are vulnerable to HIV because of structural barriers, steeped in racist and anti-Black policies and practices, to resources like healthcare, education, employment and housing. The three groups most affected by HIV are Black gay men, Black cisgender women and transgender women of color.

  2. HIV Treatment Works, U=U: People living with HIV, when on effective treatment, live long and healthy lives and cannot sexually transmit HIV, according to the CDC. When someone living with HIV receives effective treatment and follows regimens prescribed by their doctor, HIV becomes undetectable when tested. When HIV is undetectable, it is untransmittable: U=U (#UequalsU).

  3. HIV Prevention Works: HIV testing should be a part of regular medical screenings. The CDC recommends that every person ages 13-64 receive an HIV test. When a person takes a test and receives an HIV diagnosis, they can be linked to care immediately to protect their own health and prevent passing on HIV to others. Medications like PrEP (a daily pill to prevent HIV) are 99% effective at preventing HIV when taken as prescribed for people who do not have HIV.

  4. Faith-based HIV Stigma Hurts, and Spreads the Disease: With more than 10,000 congregations having members living with HIV, it is important for faith communities to take leadership in addressing HIV stigma. Shaming people living with HIV or for being on medication to prevent HIV stops people from seeking the care they need and lets undiagnosed people pass on the virus.

The 2021 State of HIV Stigma Study, published last month by GLAAD and Gilead Sciences, paints a troubling picture of the general US population’s overall awareness about HIV, including low levels of accurate knowledge around HIV transmission, and persistent stigma toward people living with HIV. The study found levels of discomfort around people living with HIV are higher in the Midwest and highest in the U.S. South.

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