Fans and artists arriving for the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) in Newark last night saw a direct appeal to their generation’s greatest strengths and their collective power as change agents in the world. The message: Your Generation Can End HIV.
The messages in front of the Prudential Center, host of the VMAs, delivered stark facts from GLAAD’s fourth annual State of HIV Stigma Study showing an alarming knowledge gap and a generation gap. Gen Z, the youngest, most socially aware, most out as LGBTQ generation, is also the least knowledgeable about HIV. Gen X, who came of age in the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, is the most knowledgeable about HIV, at 64%, compared to just 32% of Gen Z.
GLAAD’s HIV Stigma Study, created in partnership with Gilead Sciences and the Gilead COMPASS Initiative® (COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV in Southern States), shows progress in the fight against HIV and the stigma that drives new diagnoses. For the second consecutive year, more Americans are aware that there are medications like PrEP that can protect against contracting HIV. The data also show the work to be done, with 86% of Americans surveyed saying there is still a stigma around HIV.
“We must tap the talents and conscience of all generations, especially Gen Z, and engage their proven commitment to racial justice, LGBTQ equality and diversity in all forms, as well as to the environment, and to our democracy,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis wrote in her forward to the study.
“Attention in all of these areas is crucial to ending HIV,” Ellis continued. “As classrooms increasingly become political battlegrounds, accurate, lifesaving information must reach young people through news and entertainment, as well as through our own stories we share.”
The VMAs and MTV have a long history of advocating for HIV education and for people living with HIV. At the 2021 VMAs, Lil Nas X, the night’s biggest winner, featured the number 433,816 with the help of COMPASS partner, Southern AIDS Coalition, representing the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. South and HIV’s disproportionate impact there.
.@LilNasX delivered a powerful performance at the #VMAs and shined a spotlight on the stigma that fuels HIV, especially across the South. Mardrequs Harris from @SouthernAIDSCo wore the number 433,816 in red, representing the the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. South pic.twitter.com/XNLvt9x9C7
— GLAAD (@glaad) September 13, 2021
MTV has also shared HIV education through campaigns like “It’s Your Sex Life,” “Staying Alive,” and shows like “True Life” and the historic storyline of Pedro on The Real World: San Francisco. MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation has raised millions of dollars over the last twenty years to reach more than 3.2 million young people, get them tested for HIV, and awarded grants for youth-led programs across 73 countries.
New Jersey, home to the VMA’s for the last two years, recently became the third state, after Texas and Illinois, to repeal its law around criminalizing HIV status and disclosure.
GLAAD’s study noted a disturbing agreement that not disclosing HIV status should be a criminal offense, opinions not based in fact, and that further stigmatize people living with HIV. The CDC says there are currently 35 states that criminalize HIV exposure, laws that do not reflect the scientific breakthroughs in medicine and medication making HIV a fully treatable, survivable, and when treated effectively, untransmittable condition.
“These laws were created out of fear during the early part of the epidemic, and they have not caught up with the science,” Darwin Thompson, Director Public Affairs, Corporate Giving at Gilead, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution last month.
“We need to do a better job at engaging our local elected officials and politicians to ensure that laws are caught up within the current scientific advancement when it comes to HIV,” Thompson said.
Messages at the VMAs alerted audiences to the overwhelming majority support of continued education, in the community and in schools, about how to prevent HIV.
As the sun set in Newark, GenZ and all generations were encouraged to: read GLAAD’s HIV Stigma Study, know the facts, and help end HIV.
“Ending HIV should be every generation’s lasting achievement,” read a message quoting Sarah Kate Ellis’ call to action from the study, a call delivered to the VMA crowds and its global audience.