LifeBeat PSA Says "Wrap Your Monkey"
In their continuing effort to keep at-risk youth from getting HIV, Lifebeat has partnered with dozens of celebrities from Khloe Kardashian and Snoop Lion to "Jersey Shore" star Vinny Guadagnino for a new series of public service announcements (PSAs) that advise kids, "If you don’t want anything funky, wrap your monkey." And this year, they’ve teamed up with Robin Thicke for their 11th annual pre-party for the MTV Video Music Awards, to be held in New York City on Aug. 23.
"A thousand kids are infected with HIV every month and many don’t know it," said Snoop Lion in the PSA below. Finding out if you have HIV and taking medications to lower the amount of virus in your body keeps you healthier, and lowers the chance of passing it to others.
This was the message that Lifebeat member and Director of Adolescent AIDS program at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Dr. Donna Futterman, tried to drive home in a recent interview.
"Sixty percent of teens and young adults who have HIV still don’t know they are infected," said Futterman. "This new generation was not around to see what AIDS could do, and no one is targeting them with new messages in a way they can understand. For example, there is not a person on the planet who doesn’t know what Coca-Cola is, but they come out with a new campaign every year. We need to do the same with HIV."
Music is a universally understood and powerful way to do this, said Futterman. It is connected with feeling good, moving your body and sexuality, and is a powerful tool to reach young people. Lifebeat has been at the forefront for many years in using music and the power of musicians to communicate with young people.
"Right now we are engaged in this campaign of PSAs with musicians who come through Lifebeat or MTV and are asked to give this message for the radio or web," said Futterman, who is openly gay and has served on the board of Lifebeat for the past decade. "Then, we do concert outreach with Lifebeat volunteers, which is sometimes the only info that young people receive about HIV. Hitting this issue from many sides allows us to give a message that very few people are giving."
Futterman said that every five years, a new generation of teens arises, and needs to hear these messages. For young men who have sex with men -- especially those of color -- hearing this message can be even more important. So many gay kids don’t have support from their family and community, and they are pushed into other spaces or sexualized before they’re ready. In the face of the bar scene, validation from musicians is really even more important.
"There are so few places for them to openly socialize, and music plays a huge role for gay youth, between clubs and house balls," said Futterman. "To have that external validation from people valued in their world is incredibly important.
Even those kids who have family support can miss the message of HIV prevention. Futterman said that while a disproportionate number of young gay kids are active in their church choirs, HIV is not talked about in a supportive way, and these churches are not reaching out to them in love.
Lifebeat has been a leader in youth HIV education since 1992. With the help of the music and entertainment industry, they have raised millions of dollars for the cause and spread awareness with actions such as showing up at the MTV Video Music Awards, and distributing condoms at the Electric Daisy Festival. They continue to do so on their signature program, Tour Outreach, which has tables at concert venues to provide literature about HIV and condoms to youth.
By 2002, they had raised about $10M, donating $1.25M in grants to HIV/AIDS organizations, $90,000 in grants to HIV-positive people in the music industry, distributed more than 1 million condoms and educational brochures, and performed more than 2,500 of their Hearts & Voices concerts.
In 2007, Maroon 5 and Robin Thicke played Las Vegas’ House of Blues to benefit Lifebeat. And this year, Burton Snowboards partnered with Lifebeat on an exclusive line of women’s snowboards, Lip-Stick Restricted, with hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa.
"Music has an incredible role to play in lives of gay kids and teens," said Futterman. "But there can be so much hatred and anti-gay sentiment in music, that to have the music culture reflect back in a positive way is incredibly important."