Why these Charlotte advocates think her ‘harmful’ comments will turn young people living with HIV back

As DaBaby’s recent use of homophobic and HIV-stigmatizing language at a music festival in Miami continues to ignite the fire, 11 national LGBTQ and HIV / AIDS organizations sent the North Carolina-based rapper an open letter requesting a private conversation about education, prejudice and advocacy.

“We heard your inaccurate and damaging comments on Rolling Loud and read your apologies on Instagram. However, at a time when HIV continues to disproportionately impact black Americans and queer and transgender people of color, a dialogue is essential We need to address the poor education about HIV expressed in your comments and the impact it has on various communities, ”the letter said.

During the concert, DaBaby (born Jonathan Kirk) made anti-gay remarks and mistakenly stated that contracting HIV would lead to death within weeks. His comments were of particular concern to advocates in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, whom the US Centers for Disease and Prevention has designated as a “hotspot” for the HIV epidemic, with more than 6,731 diagnosed cases residing in 2019 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where Charlotte is located.

The disinformation spread by DaBaby about HIV disproportionately affects a large part of its fan base, black listeners. African Americans make up just 13 percent of the American population, but 42 percent of the population 37,968 new HIV diagnoses from 2018.

This is why there are groups like RAIN, a Charlotte-based non-profit organization focused on empowering people living with HIV and those at risk to be healthy and stigma-free.

Their work and resources help provide clinic and doctor referrals, access and education to people living with HIV and to those who need and want to learn more.

“I hope there is room for DaBaby to educate herself and hopefully do more than just apologize for two-thirds. I think it will be up to him to decide if he can go in there like no, “I don’t want to lose any more money or be canceled from more shows”, but only if he gets in there, like “I want to really to understand this, ”said Chelsea Gulden, MSW, President and CEO of RAIN.

Reckon spoke to Gulden about DaBaby’s recent comments and apologies and its potential impact on the Charlotte community.

To believe

What is the biggest barrier for people living with HIV?


I should say stigma, because it affects even the most resourceful person living with HIV. I look at our clients who are often people of color, people with low incomes and people with less resources. I recognize all of these barriers to HIV care, to sustaining care, and to successful treatment.

But then I look at how the stigma interferes with our ability to educate properly. I have known people who were extremely well off, who had no problems with resources, access to transportation, who did not have drug addiction issues, and who were white heterosexual men facing the stigma of HIV. They didn’t have any of the -isms that make matters worse, and the stigma always arises.

Why do you think it’s time for even more famous cis-gender black heterosexual men to stop stigmatizing HIV and seek sex education and education around LGBTQ + communities?

I think there is more stigma in the black community about LGBTQ people. So this forced LGBTQ people of color to seek sex education by prioritizing it through HIV education programs, using different apps, or attending events.

We also have all these community organizations that prioritize LGBTQ people of color and women of color, because those are two groups that have been hit hard.

So we have traditionally excluded straight black men of the cis gender from these conversations and we have not prioritized educating this population.

RAIN works with many young people in Charlotte and young people across the state are listening to or have listened to DaBaby. How do you think this is going to have an impact or how has it already had an impact on the young people you work with or on young people in general, who are living with HIV?

There is something we talk about called internalized stigma – if everyone around you accepts and understands (about you living with HIV), you always internalize what you think people think (about HIV). You might think of:

  • What you heard others say about HIV before your diagnosis.
  • Or for those who were born with HIV before they knew they had HIV.

I think, unfortunately, this will put young people living with HIV back on their path to acceptance, especially if they love and admire DaBaby. He’s one of the most popular rap artists out there right now and so it’s like being run over by someone you love.

I’m older, so I think back to when I was younger and had everyone’s poster hanging in my room and pasted on my walls. If I was a teenager right now, and teens still do, I would probably tear up his poster.

The lack of sex education in North Carolina is evident, as someone who grew up in the public school systems of North Carolina, I didn’t feel like the 2009 The Healthy Youth Act gave me a appropriate, solid and quality sex education. What do you think NC sex education needs to do differently?

I did a lot of advocacy from 2004-2009 in my first five years of being HIV positive and fieldwork and seeing what comprehensive sexuality education looks like. While the Healthy Youth Act is definitely better than what we had before 2009, it didn’t go far enough and is currently outdated.

Sex education must be present in all classes. You don’t teach math once and you don’t teach addition once and you feel like the kids got it. You revisit it and build on it in an age-appropriate way. And I think that’s what we’re missing.

Sex itself is stigmatized, this is one of the reasons why HIV is still so stigmatized because we do not want to talk about sex either as adults, in this country and even less in the South. People act like we can’t love God and talk about sex too.

Do you want to talk a bit about prevention and the use of PrEP?

We actually have the tools to end HIV. We would not cure people who are currently living with HIV, but we could stop new infections if we could find all the people who were living with HIV and put them on effective HIV treatment.

There is obviously a certain self-responsibility for successful treatment. You must take the pill or vaccine as directed by the doctor to keep this viral load undetectable, the viral load becomes undetectable and remains undetectable, so you cannot pass the virus on during unprotected sex.

We also know needle exchange programs work and we know how to teach people to clean needles – transmission from a harm reduction model. We can fight HIV by finding all HIV positive people and getting them on treatment and finding all HIV negative people and putting them on PrEP.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around PrEP and not everyone trusts the science, even though it has been around for a long time.

If we could put all the tools we have to use effectively in the communities that we have missed in one way or another, we could stop the spread of HIV. We would not see any new diagnosis.

About Bradley J. Bridges

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