No, DaBaby, HIV will not ‘make you die in 2 to 3 weeks.’ Here’s the truth.

·9 min read
DaBaby's comments about HIV and gay people are doing more harm than perhaps he realizes. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press)
DaBaby's comments about HIV and gay people are doing more harm than perhaps he realizes. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press)

On Sunday, DaBaby unleashed a homophobic rant while performing at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami.

As heard in video footage shared on social media, the chart-topping rapper is seen insulting gay men and saying harmful rhetoric about people living with HIV.

“If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two, three weeks, then put your cellphone light up,” he said. “Ladies, if your p***y smell like water, put a cellphone light them up. Fellas, if you ain’t sucking d*** in the parking lot, put your cellphone light up. Keep it real.”

The footage went viral and welcomed a slew of criticism from HIV activists and celebrities alike, including from Dua Lipa, Demi Lovato, Jonathan Van Ness, Elton John, GLAAD and others. 

Unfortunately, their comments did little to educate the rapper. 

DaBaby stepped in hot water again the next day when he doubled down in a nearly five-minute Instagram Story video where he attempted to “address this weak ass internet sh_t.”

“All the lights went up — gay or straight — you wanna know why?” the rapper reportedly told his 19 million followers in the since-deleted video. “Because even my gay fans don’t got f–king AIDS, stupid ass n—as. They don’t got AIDS. My gay fans, they take care of themselves. They ain’t no nasty gay n—as, see what I’m saying? They ain’t no junkies on the street.”

Following his comments, the clothing brand boohooMAN condemned the rapper’s comments and chose to drop him from their campaign. 

DaBaby apologized for his comments on Tuesday, but sadly, the harmful message had already been said.

The truth about HIV and AIDS today

It's important to distinguish that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing: HIV is a virus that, when left untreated, will progress to the disease known as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). 

Since the first AIDS case was discovered in 1981, nearly 33 million people globally have died from AIDS-related illnesses. But a lot has changed in the last 20 years. 

HIV is not a "deadly" disease any longer but rather a chronic manageable condition requiring daily treatment not dissimilar to other conditions like diabetes. Statements like the one DaBaby perpetuated onstage erase years of work from activists attempting to destigmatize the virus.  

"It triggered thoughts from me being first diagnosed and being told I only had six months to live," Olga Irwin, a spokesperson for Positive Women's Network USA (PWN-USA), a nationwide community of women living with HIV, tells Yahoo Life of hearing DeBaby's comments. 

"I'm a survivor," adds Irwin, who has lived with HIV for 25 years. "Those two sentences brought us back to the 1980s. That one comment is probably going to take us another five, six years to get [perceptions around HIV] back up to where we're at now, simply because he's a celebrity." 

The truth is that HIV treatment is now so advanced that people with HIV can expect to live as long as those who do not have HIV. 

Thanks to the global consensus U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable), it is common knowledge that when a person living with HIV is on treatment and their viral load (the volume of virus found in the body) is suppressed, or undetectable, which can take days to weeks to achieve, it is impossible for them to transmit the virus to others.

That realization alone has changed the well-being of millions of people living with HIV around the world. It's not only saved their lives but they've also regained their dignity. They are reminded that they're not diseased nor plagued, but that they're worthy of being loved (and making love) just like everybody else. 

"HIV has changed and it's past time to educate the public about it," Bruce Richman, founder of the U=U campaign, tells Yahoo Life. "DaBaby's appalling ignorance and homophobia gives the media an opportunity to educate about the reality of HIV today."

Furthermore, daily pill strategies like PrEP, which when taken routinely makes it nearly impossible to contract HIV, has become key to beating the epidemic long term. According to the World Health Organization, 600, 000 people across 76 countries received PrEP at least once in 2019 — a 70 percent increase from 2018. 

This week it was announced that PrEP will now be free under most health insurance plans.

The dangerous impact of HIV misconceptions 

"Celebrities have a huge influence on their audience, everything they say carries so much weight and authority — especially with young fans," Karl Schmid, a Los Angeles-based ABC correspondent and co-founder of +Life Media who came out as HIV-positive in 2018, tells Yahoo Life. 

"When celebs like DaBaby preach homophobia and spread misinformation about HIV/AIDS, those ideas spread like wildfire," he adds. "There’s no excuse for ignorance and less of one for spreading it." 

Since the first case of AIDS was discovered in 1981, the media has placed a large focus on it being a gay man's illness, because AIDS has disproportionately impacted men who have sex with men. (In 1992, AIDS was the leading cause of death among men ages 25 to 44.)

These misconceptions and outdated stigma fuel not only society but also law. 

As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37 states enact HIV criminalization laws, which unjustly prosecutes people living with HIV even if transmission or an intent to transmit doesn't actually occur. 

These draconian laws, which were enacted in the 1980s when very little was known about HIV, disproportionately impact people of color — many of whom find themselves targeted by angry ex-lovers or authority figures with little knowledge about HIV. 

Robert Suttle spent six months in a Louisiana prison after a bad breakup led his ex to press charges, claiming that Suttle failed to disclose his HIV status to him before they had sex — which Suttle denies. He ended spending six months in prison and upon release was required to register as a sex offender. He has since used his story to shed light on the injustice of HIV crime laws.

In 2015, Michael L. Johnson, a former college wrestler, was sentenced to 30 years (longer than the state average for second-degree murder, the New York Times points out) for allegedly failing to disclose his status despite the fact that his viral load was undetectable. He was released in 2015 on parole after an appeals court found that his original trial was “unfair.”

Suttle's and Johnson's are two of thousands of unjust prosecutions. 

Recently, the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law found that between 1997 and 2020, there have been at least 358 convictions of HIV-related crimes in Florida — all of which have cost taxpayers $12 million. 

Who is hurt the most? 

Of the nearly 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV, about 13 percent are unaware of their positive status due in large part to fears of getting tested, according to HIV.gov

Most Americans have never had an HIV test, according to a 2019 CDC report

In 2019, there were 34,800 new HIV diagnoses reported, according to HIV.gov. Sadly, young gay and bisexual men between 13 and 24 accounted for 83 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in that same age group in 2018, reports the CDC. To make matters more complicated, 13- to 24-year-olds are also the age group that is least likely to get tested.  

Women accounted for 19 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2018. Currently, 1 in 4 people living with HIV in the United states are women.

African Americans, though they represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 44 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2019, while Latinos accounted for 30 percent. 

A scary 2016 CDC report showed that if we don't work hard in reversing stigma around testing, prevention and treatment for HIV, half of all Black gay and bisexual men in the U.S. are projected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. 

And yet, only half of Americans feel knowledgeable about HIV, and nearly 90 percent believe that stigma still exists around it. 

According to Irwin, hurtful messages in the media like DaBaby's will prevent those who are newly diagnosed from seeking treatment. 

"They're going to be afraid to be even seen near a clinic," she says, arguing that it will make them feel more "stigmatized." 

"People living with HIV, myself included, battle for normalcy in a world that tells us we are not worthy and undeserving of love," says Tiommi Luckett, communications and training assistant for PWN-USA and a Black trans woman. "His attempts to justify his actions were just as hurtful." 

"There could have been a million things that he could have said to hype the crowd," adds Deirdre Johnson, PWN's Virginia state lead and a staunch advocate. "But creating a divide among people because of their HIV status or who they are should not have been it. There is now a large group of individuals that are now choosing to not support his music because of the comments. I am one of them." 

Activists and organizers alike agree that DaBaby's language discourages people from learning about HIV, keeping the social and cultural associations of the past, rather than moving forward. 

"That was a missed opportunity for DaBaby to show that he had taken a second to regroup, apologize, especially to the LBGTQ community, and provide accurate information on HIV, how HIV affects women, especially Back women, who make up a large percentage of his audience," Johnson says of DaBaby's apology. 

"DaBaby, Black and Brown communities, your communities, especially in the South, have higher rates of HIV infection than any other group," says Schmid. "Hate speech, idiotic, uneducated, and dangerous speech like yours only makes it harder. Do yourself, your fans and your community a favor and educate yourself." 

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