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Lil Nas X Raises HIV Awareness During VMAs Performance

Atlanta native Lil Nas X raised awareness about HIV in the South during his performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) on Sunday (September 12).

Lil Nas X performed his hit singles “Industry Baby” and “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” The performance included Mardequs Harris, Southern AIDS Coalition’s Director of Community Investments. Harris wore the number 433,816 in red, representing both the color of HIV awareness and support and the number of people living with HIV in the South as of 2015.

“This experience was surreal,” Harris said in a press release. “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 performance comes ahead of Lil Nas X’s “Montero” album release on Friday (September 17) which includes a “baby registry” that will include a list of organizations associated with each song that fans can donate to. The list includes 13 HIV organizations, including Georgia-based organizations Thrive SS, Counter Narrative Project, and Compassionate Atlanta.

The Southern AIDS Coalition, in conjunction with Wake Forest University’s Faith Coordinating Center, GLAAD, and other HIV/AIDS organizations, are also sharing the following HIV facts tied to Lil Nas X’s 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.

“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.”