During his set at Rolling Loud on July 25, American rapper DaBaby made some extremely homophobic comments in Miami about those living with HIV, demonstrating his ignorance surrounding the disease as well as hate towards the community.
“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 cell phone light in the air,” DaBaby said to the crowd. He also made other anti-gay comments, as recorded on video.
The rest of the story is pretty messy, with DaBaby making numerous statements following his performance on both Instagram and Twitter. On July 26, he defended his comments on Instagram Live and made more homophobic comments, even telling people who weren’t at the in-person show to “shut the f*ck up.” However, following more backlash, the rapper somewhat backpedaled and attempted to apologize for some of what he said, writing on Twitter on July 27, “Anybody who done ever been effected by AIDS/HIV y’all got the right to be upset, what I said was insensitive even though I have no intentions on offending anybody. So my apologies 🙏🏾 But the LGBT community… I ain’t trippin on y’all, do you. y’all business is y’all business.” But by then, the damage had already been done.
Celebrities including Demi Lovato, Dua Lipa, Elton John, and Madonna responded to DaBaby’s hateful comments online, calling the rapper out for his blatant homophobia and taking the opportunity to inform their fans about common misconceptions surrounding HIV. John took to Twitter to educate his fanbase on HIV in a string of tweets, writing that he was “shocked” to hear DaBaby’s comments and that they are “the opposite of what our world needs to fight the AIDS epidemic.” Lovato reposted an educational infographic on Instagram about HIV along with the caption “hot people listen to the original version of levitating.”
Although Lollapalooza and Governors Ball have both dropped DaBaby from their festival setlists, it does not change the fact that DaBaby’s comments are much bigger than just him; rather, they are a representation of the still-existing negative attitudes surrounding HIV and the consequent need for better sex education in the United States. Because although DaBaby’s outcry is an extreme case of ignorance surrounding people living with HIV, there are nonetheless some Americans who agree with DaBaby, or at least some who have similar negative attitudes.
In response to DaBaby’s comments, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) released a statement, saying, “The rhetoric that DaBaby used is inaccurate, hurtful, and harmful to the LGBTQ community and the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. It is critical that DaBaby and his fans learn that people living with HIV today, when on effective treatment, lead long and healthy lives and cannot transmit HIV.”
Many Americans are uneducated or misinformed about HIV, and this is hugely due to negative stigmas surrounding the disease during its emergence in the United States in the 1980s. Although Gen Z did not grow up with this stigma to this extreme of a degree, most of our parents did. The first case of AIDS was reported in the United States in 1981, and HIV and AIDS were both heavily associated with gay men especially. In the ‘80s, it became commonly known as a “gay man’s disease,” despite the fact that anyone can get HIV. In fact, people who identified as heterosexual accounted for 23% of HIV diagnoses in 2019.
As the stigma worsened and AIDS cases continued to rise across the country, the Ronald Reagan administration kept its silence until 1985. In 1982, after nearly 1,000 Americans had died from AIDS, Reagan’s press secretary Larry Speakes joked about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and even laughed about it. When asked if Reagan was concerned about the epidemic, Speakes replied that he hadn’t “heard him express concern” and that he hadn’t “asked him about it.” In 1985, Reagan finally broke his silence on the epidemic and called it a “top priority,” despite having ignored the issue for years at this point. Although Reagan eventually appointed a commission to investigate the epidemic, his delayed response accounted for so many deaths, and by 1987, 47,000 Americans had been diagnosed with HIV. The Reagan administration’s failure to adequately address the epidemic still has extreme effects today in 2021 as HIV and HIV-related stigmas continue to disproportionately affect the LGBTQIA+ community.
Although the stigma surrounding HIV has lessened since the 1980s, it still has prevalence today, which is strikingly clear from DaBaby’s comments alone. A study from 2018 by researchers from the CDC found that 1 out of 5 adults reported fear of people living with HIV. Another study conducted by GLAAD in 2020 found that 89% of Americans believe that there is still a stigma associated with HIV, and 88% of Americans agree that “people are quick to judge those with HIV.” The GLAAD study also found that the majority of Americans believe that it is “important to be careful around people with HIV to avoid catching it,” despite the fact that simply being around a person living with HIV will not give another individual HIV.
Due to misconceptions and stigmas surrounding HIV, research shows that the primary way to destigmatize is to educate. Sex education is not only beneficial in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies in adolescents, but it is also a tool to help students become more educated about their own bodies as well as public health. (There are so many more reasons why accurate sex education is important, but that’s for another time.)
And although the push for sex education in schools has made progress within the past few years, only 28 states mandate both sex education and HIV education. What is even more concerning is that only 22 states require that if sex education and HIV education are taught, they must be medically accurate. The term “medically accurate” also varies state to state, making the issue even more murky. With informal and vague guidance, teachers are left to educate students based on either biased or incorrect assumptions. If some teachers were raised with the harmful stigmas surrounding HIV that were especially prominent during the 1980s, then they may spread even more misinformation about HIV. And the cycle continues.
Ultimately, we need better sex education in the United States, and especially accurate and comprehensive HIV education. Although Gen Z didn’t grow up with the same harmful stigmas that our parents did, the crux of the matter is that these stigmas still exist — and without proper knowledge, we can become susceptible to them. While most of us didn’t get the proper sex education we should have, it is up to us now to stay vigilant and call out misinformation and harmful narratives when we see them, like Lovato and John did when DaBaby made these comments. We should also push for systemic change in schools across America so that future generations don’t grow up with the same teachings. Ultimately, it is up to us to actively work towards undoing the harm that has been created over the past forty years and create a more informed and welcoming society.
GLAAD. (2020). State of HIV Stigma Study.
Pitasi, Marc A., et al. (2018). Stigmatizing Attitudes Towards People Living with HIV Among Adults and Adolescents in the United States. Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.