Lil Nas X at the VMAs Spotlights HIV Stigma & Advocates Working to End

By  September 12, 2021

Tonight at the VMAs, Lil Nas X delivered a powerful performance to accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ Americans and shine a spotlight on the stigma that fuels HIV, especially across the South, where Lil Nas X is from.

Lil Nas X went on to win three VMAs: best video, best direction and best visual effects for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” which Nas has said was inspired by the LGBTQ-inclusive movie.

During the performance of Lil Nas X’s hit singles “Industry Baby” into “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” Mardrequs Harris, Southern AIDS Coalition’s Director of Community Investments, participated onstage. 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.

“This experience was surreal!” Harris said.

“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.”

Southern AIDS Coalition is a Gilead COMPASS Coordinating Center based in Birmingham, Alabama, providing grants, trainings for providers and leadership development to defeat HIV-related stigma for those living with and impacted by HIV.

The U.S. South has 52% of undiagnosed HIV infections. 44% of people now living with HIV were diagnosed in the South.

GLAAD’s 2021 State of HIV Stigma study found that more than half of Americans don’t know that with proper treatment, HIV is undetectable and untransmittable, U=U.

“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.

“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.

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®, 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. COMPASS focuses on providing concentrated investments in the region to reduce HIV-related health disparities, build awareness, advance education, and reduce stigma.

Here’s more on the Gilead COMPASS Initiative® organizations on Lil Nas X’s registry.

  • The Normal Anomaly (Houston, TX) centers Black, queer people to overcome barriers, end stigma, problematic narratives, to actualize a new normal.
  • Thrive SS (Atlanta, GA) works to improve health equity for Black gay men living with HIV through direct support, advocacy and building collective power.
  • Counter Narrative Project (Atlanta, GA) works to build power among Black gay men and work in coalition and solidarity with all movements committed to social and racial justice.
  • The Bros in Convo Initiative (Orlando, FL) provides comprehensive, multicultural sexual health and wellness education and peer support that empowers, promotes, and protects the healthy well-being of young men of color.
  • Transinclusive Group (Wilton Manors, FL) advocates and works with community partners to “Build Trust and Relationships” within the transgender community by ending discrimination, mistreatment, and racial disparities in healthcare, employment, education and housing.
  • Arianna’s Center (South Florida) engages, empowers and lifts up the trans community of South Florida with a special emphasis on the most marginalized, including the Trans Latinx community, undocumented immigrants, people living with HIV and AIDS, and those who have experienced incarceration.
  • Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT) (Houston, TX) is a community-based organization, made up of Trans women for Trans people (Transsexuals, Transgender and Intersex) and allies, focused on the visibility and protection of human rights and the well-being of the Trans community through empowerment, community organization to promote advocacy in equity and equality.
  • CH Pier (Greenville, MS) creates a platform for rural communities to decrease the vicious cycle of health disparities through education, intervention, and research.
  • What’s In The Mirror? (Austin, TX) is a social movement that provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention to communities of color through art, advocacy, and affirming care with a healing justice framework and focus on women, youth, and LGBTQIA persons.
  • Central Alabama Alliance  Resource & Advocacy Center (Wetumka, AL) leads positive health change in Alabama and empowers communities through education, advocacy, and service.
  • Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (TX/IN) represents a cross section of progressive African American faith leaders and their congregations to build the capacity of faith leaders’ understanding of and engagement with the social determinants of health uniquely impacting African American trans and queer communities and African American cis-gendered women in the Southern region of the United States (in partnership with Historically Black Institutions of Higher Education).
  • Relationship Unleashed (Memphis, TN) fights inequality through comprehensive programming including  HIV/AIDS, Domestic Violence, Mental Health, Faith-based Initiatives, and Holistic Therapy, to build productive relationships, partnerships, and make a positive impact with all pursuits.
  • Compassionate Atlanta (GA) is a grassroots community-building non-profit which seeks to raise awareness about the benefits of compassionate action throughout the Greater Atlanta area by teaching and encouraging people of every persuasion and walk of life to channel their concern for the wellbeing of others into tangible action.

Southern AIDS CoalitionWake 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 HIVaccording 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.

“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 of GLAAD.