It’s not all steamy showers at the Montero State Prison for Lil Nas X.
While commanding the stage at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday (September 12), the “power bottom rapper” leveraged his platform to impart a powerful message about HIV/AIDS in the United States. The subtle but important shout-out came courtesy of activist Mardrequs Harris, director of community investments for the Southern AIDS Coalition, a regional group serving people living with HIV/AIDS below the Mason-Dixon line.
Harris joined Nas X — a Georgia native, for the record — onstage in black pants and a matching black shirt emblazoned with “433,816” in red. That is the number of Americans living with HIV in the South as of 2015. It has “increased substantially” in the six years since then, according to GLAAD and Gilead’s COMPASS Initiative.
.@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
“This experience was surreal!” Harris said in a statement. “Having the opportunity to share the stage with Lil Nas X was something I never would have imagined. And to have him use his platform to raise awareness about HIV stigma is invaluable to our work.”
In addition to welcoming Harris onstage, Nas X launched a “baby registry” for fans who wish to donate to a good cause in his name. Many of the organizations it benefits support LGBTQ+ advocacy and HIV/AIDS activism. The name, of course, is a reference to the out rapper’s forthcoming birth of his long-awaited debut album, Montero, due this Friday (September 17).
In a statement, activist DaShawn Usher, GLAAD’s associate director for communities of color, commended Nas X for “using the iconic VMAs stage to highlight HIV in the U.S. South, where HIV rates and HIV stigma continues to impact our community despite advances in prevention and the fact that people with HIV today lead long, healthy lives and, when on proper medication, cannot transmit the virus.” (DaBaby, are you taking notes?)
Sunday’s show was a banner night for the 22-year-old rapper, who performed a sexy, super-queer rendition of his hit singles “Industry Baby” and “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” And that was before he took home Video of the Year, the VMAs’s top honor, for “Montero”’s smoking-hot visuals.
“I want to say thank you to the gay agenda,” Nas X told the audience after dancing his way to the podium. “Let’s go gay agenda!”