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Three years ago Lil Nas X burst onto the scene with “Olde Town Road”, breaking a record for the longest charting number one song on the Billboard Hot 100. His music and outspoken antics have challenged homophobia in the music industry and inspired a generation of Black LGBTQ people to unapologetically be their authentic selves.
Born Montero Lamar Hill, the genre-bending artist recently released his long-awaited debut album by the same name. It received worldwide acclaim and national recognition, with HotNewHipHop calling it a “gem” in a recent review.
One writer for Billboard wrote that it offers listeners “an emotional R&B introspection into the nature of his stardom, his past, and his potential for growth.” The album release comes after the iconic superstar has faced and responded to homophobic comments and attitudes from some rappers and many others who prefer LGBTQ+ artists remain silent and obscure.
Homophobic comments spark conversations on HIV
On July 25, rapper Dababy faced severe backlash after making unsolicited homophobic comments at the Rolling Loud Miami concert.
“If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone lighter up,” he told attendees. “Ladies, if your p—- smell like water, put your cellphone lighter up. Fellas, if you ain’t sucking d— in the parking lot, put your cellphone lighter up.”
The reaction was swift. Concerts over the summer cancelled his performances one after another. Dua Lipa removed him from her song “Levitating.” Many on social media and some celebrities continued to condemn his comments even after multiple failed apologies.
Though Dababy never explicitly called out Lil Nas X in his comments, many saw it as a hateful clapback to the enormous emergence of a popular, proud gay Black artist in the music industry.
While he eventually met with a coalition of Black LGTBQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual, Queer) organizations, he hasn’t made a public apology since the announcement of the meeting, where participants said the goal was to “call him in” rather than call him out.
Yet, the damage of homophobic words has already been inflicted on many in the community, young and old, and some of whom have been longtime fans of Dababy’s.
The truth about HIV and Black LGBTQ people
Dababy’s false statements about people living with HIV have heightened awareness around the stigma individuals face, especially Black LGBTQ+ individuals. A 2021 report from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) published troubling findings about the U.S. population’s understanding of the disease. The 2021 State of HIV Stigma study found that “less than half of Americans, 48%, feel knowledgeable about HIV, down three points from a year ago.”
Black LGBTQ+ men are more affected by HIV than any other demographic in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While efforts to expand information around and advocate for people living with HIV has increased substantially, one in two Black LGBTQ+ persons are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime, according to HIV.gov.
While attitudes like those illustrated by Dababy’s comments will point to promiscuous behavior as the cause of these alarming trends, experts note that Black gay and bisexual men are least likely to have access to preventive healthcare and face heightened stigma around their sexual identity.
People living with HIV lead normal lives
These factors, along with the fact that our nation’s laws have only recently decriminalized being gay, contribute to an epidemic in the Black gay community.
Moreover, erasing the stigma around LGBTQ identities has become even more urgent as suicide rates for LGBTQ+ youth outpace those of the general population. In fact, while suicide remains the second-leading cause of death for young people in the U.S., that rate is three times more frequent for Black gay youth in the country, according to The Trevor Project.
The organization also notes that Black LGBTQ+ youth are less likely to have access to mental health resources.
Yet, despite the stigma, people living with HIV are able to lead relatively normal lives, thanks to 21st-century medicine. HIV treatments today slow down the effects and can help prevent people from passing on the disease to their partners. Moreover, PREP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is highly effective at preventing someone from getting HIV through sex when taken regularly, according to the CDC.
Supporting organizations that support LGBT people
For his part, Lil Nas X has refused to cave to the pressure from homophobes eager to see him exit the industry. Instead of playing into the respectability politics of what straight fans and artists would prefer to see, Nas X released a music video, “Industry Baby”, featuring the naked male physique prominently, and with a straight male rap artist on the track. To promote Montero, he trolled haters with his prosthetic pregnancy, a metaphor for the “birth” of his debut album.
But beyond his social media clapbacks, Nas X uplifts and contributes financially to the very causes he speaks about.
At the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, the artist boldly raised awareness for people living with HIV and AIDS. He wore a black shirt with the number 433,816 in red to represent the number of people living with HIV in the South.
Moreover, ahead of his Montero album, Nas X released a “baby registry” which listed several LGBTQ+ and social justice charities for his fans to donate to. He’s also partnered with the Gilead Compass Initiative, which has committed $100 million over 10 years to address HIV-related health disparities, build awareness, and reduce stigma, according to a report from Tennessee Lookout.
More money flows to HIV research, cure on the horizon?
Signs of hope have surfaced as more money has flowed into HIV research initiatives in recent weeks.
The Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication, led at the UNC HIV Cure Center, received a $26.2 million award to expand its research. Similarly, Emory University received a $23 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to do the same.
In August, The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for LGTBQ people, announced the release of the nation’s first in-home testing kit program for HIV.
Importantly, research on a cure for HIV has also expanded. On September 21, 2021, NIH released a report that found reduced levels of HIV in mice after infecting them with a protein.
From the study: “Researchers used exosomes, tiny nanoparticles capable of being taken up by cells, to deliver novel protein into the cells of mice infected with HIV. The protein attached to HIVs’ genetic material and prevented it from replicating, resulting in reduced levels of HIV in the bone marrow, spleen, and brain.”
Amazingly, one study for a total cure of HIV using CRISPR gene-editing technology has recently received FDA approval to begin human trials.
Current treatments for people living with HIV limit the ability of HIV cells to replicate, allowing people to live relatively healthy and much longer lives than those diagnosed in the 1980’s, at the height of the epidemic.
Yet, EBT-101, the first-in-human CRISPR-based one-time gene therapy, seeks to completely cure the disease from the body. Excision, the company behind the study, will begin clinical trials on humans later this year.
Lil Nas X won’t back down to haters
Still, homophobic attitudes and comments continue to persist. Rapper Boosie Badazz refuses to remain silent on his disgust for Lil Nas X and others who dare to live their lives without submitting to a heteronormative worldview.
Previously, Boosie said he would “drag his a— off stage and beat his a—” if he performed naked at an awards show. In an August episode of The Breakfast Club, he doubled-down on his threatening comments.
“Who love these rappers? The kids,” Boosie claimed. “If you make every rapper go with this … you grab that generation. I loved every rapper when I was little, you know? I tried to copy what they did. It’s a new day now, and I feel like they’re pushing it on our kids.”
While co-hosts Charlamagne tha God, Angela Yee and DJ Envy attempted to correct him, Out.com called Lil Nas X’s own response “effortless.”
“Wow…. this is insane. Almost as insane as my new single ‘industry baby’ which is out now!” Nas X replied on Twitter.
— MONTERO 🦋 (@LilNasX) August 23, 2021