Rapper and actor Milan Christopher has teamed up with the Los Angeles LGBT Center to spread the message that gay men of color deserve to have great (and safer) sex.
“In communities of color, there is so much stigma around sex, being gay, and HIV that people are scared to even talk about PrEP — and many more don’t even know about it,” says Christopher, who is an out gay man utilizing PrEP himself.
African-American and Latino men who have sex with men have elevated risks of becoming HIV-positive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. APLA Health recently reported that gay and bisexual youth of color, and transgender women, are less likely to know about or have access to PrEP. Clearly, there is a need for greater outreach and better messaging to reach the most vulnerable communities.
“Communities of color continue to be the hardest hit by new HIV [diagnoses], making the awareness and accessibility of PrEP an ever more urgent priority,” says Darrel Cumming, chief of staff at the L.A. LGBT Center.
Building on the success of last year’s Fuck Without Fear HIV prevention campaign, the Center teamed with the Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood star to launch its new PrEP’d AF outreach campaign. The main goal of the project (PrepHere.org) is to raise awareness that PrEP makes it nearly impossible for HIV-negative people to contract the virus, while encouraging them to have responsible, active, and fun sex lives.
Christopher talks with Plus about HIV and getting everyone PrEP’d AF.
Why is this campaign important to you?
It’s something I’m very passionate about. Too many people are still [contracting] HIV so I want to help in any way that I can. In the black community, many people associate HIV with being gay, which still carries a major negative stigma. Because of that, people who should be taking PrEP aren’t, because they are scared to even talk about HIV. I’m never scared to speak out for something I believe in and that’s why I’m spreading the word about PrEP.
Why did you decide to go on PrEP yourself?
I’ve had friends die of [AIDS complications] and I’ve had scares where I thought I was exposed to HIV. This was happening before PrEP was available. When my doctor told me about a clinical trial for PrEP several years ago, I knew I wanted to try it to protect myself. I’ve been taking it ever since. I get my PrEP from the L.A. LGBT Center. The Center offers consultations, testing, and can help people get on PrEP. They can also help people get it at low or no cost.
Just a few years ago, guys were still afraid to tell folks they were on PrEP for fear of slut-shaming. Did you deal with that?
No. I really wasn’t afraid to say I was on PrEP because PrEP for me was always another layer of protection. I still use condoms when I have sex, but condoms break and accidents happen. But when they I do, PrEP is still there to protect me from HIV.
There’s still a lot of stigma around both sex and HIV. How can we change that?
The best way to fight the stigma around sex and HIV in communities of color is to talk about it, which is why I’m partnering with the L.A. LGBT Center on the PrEP’d AF campaign. Communities of color are most at-risk for [contracting] HIV. Right now, one in two black men who have sex with men will get HIV in their lifetime [if rates continue as they are]. That is unacceptable. If we don’t normalize conversations about sex and preventing HIV with tools we already have — like PrEP and condoms — it’s only going to get worse. I truly believe that the work I’m doing to educate people about PrEP is saving lives and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
In order for PrEP to change things, we need to get it to all men who have sex with men.
You’ve claimed a lot of rappers are secretly bi. Do you think this campaign can reach them?
I want to reach as many people as possible with the PrEP’d AF campaign to help prevent HIV and save lives. The more attention the campaign gets, the more people it reaches and, hopefully, it reaches men who have sex with men who don’t identify as gay or bi. A lot of influential people in the music industry follow me on social media, so I’m posting a lot about the campaign and sending people who are interested to PrepHere.org to learn more.
You yourself are sexy AF. Did you worry this campaign would impact your brand?
I’ve worked closely with the L.A. LGBT Center over the years, so when they approached me to partner on PrEP’d AF and help raise awareness for PrEP, I didn’t even hesitate because it’s very important to me. To me, being PrEP’d AF means you’re protected. You’re as protected as you can possibly be against HIV and you’ve taken charge of your health and your sex life. I want everyone who thinks PrEP might be right for them to feel empowered and motivated to protect themselves. To me, being PrEP’d AF is sexy AF.