After a turbulent month, DaBaby seems to have done something right—and no, we’re not talking about making the final cut of Donda. On Tuesday, Black leaders from nine U.S. HIV organizations revealed that they “held a virtual, private meeting” with the embattled artist “to discuss HIV facts and share personal stories of living and thriving with HIV,” according to a press release provided to The Root.
Memorably, the 29-year-old faced public outrage after spewing a slew of homophobic slurs and HIV misinformation during a late July performance at Rolling Loud Miami. While many admonished the rapper and others called for his “cancellation” (as if), eleven HIV and AIDS advocacy organizations joined Nick Cannon in choosing compassion, issuing an open letter to the artist born Jonathan Kirk published on Aug. 4. As of Aug. 26, 125 organizations had signed on in support of the statement, including the Gilead COMPASS Initiative Coordinating Centers at Emory University, the University of Houston, Southern AIDS Coalition, and Wake Forest University along with at least 44 COMPASS partners including Arkansas Black Gay Men Forum, Partnership To End AIDS Status Inc. (PEAS), My Brother’s Keeper, Inc., Relationships Unleashed, and Advocacy House Services.
Per a joint statement from the organizations:
The open letter to DaBaby was our way to extend him the same grace each of us would hope for. Our goal was to ‘call him in instead of calling him out.’ We believed that if he connected with Black leaders living with HIV that a space for community building and healing could be created. We are encouraged he swiftly answered our call and joined us in a meaningful dialogue and a thoughtful, educational meeting.
While DaBaby’s apologies about the incident seemed dubious (and in some cases, he even seemed to renege on any regrets), he apparently agreed to virtually meet with leaders from several of the organizations. Per the press release, the orgs in question “provide HIV education and direct services to people most impacted by HIV/AIDS, especially Black heterosexual men and women and LGBTQ communities across the southern United States, which account for the majority of new HIV cases.” Representatives from the Black AIDS Institute, Gilead Sciences COMPASS Initiative Coordinating Centers, GLAAD, National Minority AIDS Council(NMAC), The Normal Anomaly Initiative, Positive Women’s Network-USA, Prevention Access Campaign (U=U), the Southern AIDS Coalition, and Transinclusive Group, as well as a faith and HIV adviser were all in conversation with DaBaby on August 25, during which they reportedly “discussed HIV history and education, as well as the groups’ work in Black, LGBTQ and faith communities.”
More details about the meeting:
During our meeting, DaBaby was genuinely engaged, apologized for the inaccurate and hurtful comments he made about people living with HIV, and received our personal stories and the truth about HIV and its impact on Black and LGBTQ communities with deep respect. We appreciate that he openly and eagerly participated in this forum of Black people living with HIV, which provided him an opportunity to learn and to receive accurate information.
As community leaders who understand the power of conversations as a path to education and evolution, we know that DaBaby received meaningful facts. We were also able to share personal stories about our lives as everyday people who acquired HIV. Now, we wish for him to use his platform to relay that critical information to his fanbase and encourage people to get tested and know their status. During our meeting, DaBaby acknowledged that the HIV facts we presented‚many of which he himself was unaware of—are what every American needs to know: HIV is preventable and when treated properly, cannot be passed on. At a time when HIV continues to disproportionately impact Black communities, celebrities and influencers of all backgrounds have the power to defeat the stigma that fuels the epidemic. We must all do our part to make the public aware of medication that can prevent HIV and to get more people tested and treated. Together we can end this epidemic. 40 years is far too long. Stigma hurts; prevention, testing, and treatment work.
“DaBaby’s willingness to listen, learn, and grow can open the door to an entirely new generation of people to do the same,” said Marnina Miller, a community outreach coordinator with the Southern AIDS Coalition. “Ending HIV stigma requires doing the hard work of changing hearts and minds, and often that begins with something as simple as starting a dialogue. We hope DaBaby will use his platform to educate his fans and help end the epidemic.”
Additionally, the groups wanted to share information with DaBaby’s fans; especially timely given findings released last week by GLAAD’s 2021 State of HIV Stigma Study (funded by the Gilead COMPASS Initiative), which “paints a troubling picture of the general US population’s overall awareness about HIV.” That includes the finding that only 42 percent of Americans know that people living with HIV cannot transmit the virus while on proper treatment, and 87 percent believe there is still stigma around HIV. Accordingly, the coalition has also asked us to share the following with our readership:
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 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. When a person takes a test and learns they are HIV negative, they can then make decisions that can protect them from HIV. 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.
3. HIV Treatment Works, U=U: People diagnosed with HIV don’t “die in two or three weeks.” People living with HIV, when on effective treatment, live long and healthy lives and cannot sexually transmit HIV. 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 un-transmittable: U=U (#UequalsU)
4. HIV Is a Chronic Health Condition, Not a Death Sentence: HIV can be prevented, tested, and treated like any chronic disease such as diabetes. It is not a death sentence. People living with HIV and on treatment can be healthy, have children, and not pass on the virus (Undetectable = Untransmittable).
5. HIV Stigma Hurts, and Spreads the Disease: 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.
“Our goal is to make sure that Black people are armed with accurate information so that they can make the best choices for themselves about their sexual health,” said Reverend Rob Newells-Newton, Director of Programs, Black AIDS Institute which released We The People: A Black Strategy to End HIV in 2020. “We call on Black people and our allies to: dismantle anti-Black racism; invest in transforming the socioeconomic conditions of Black people; ensure universal access to culturally-affirming healthcare; and build the capacity and motivation of Black communities to be the change agents for ending HIV.”