Jay Ellis stands up for what he believes—and for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7, he wants for all us to do our part to curb the epidemic in our community.
The Insecure actor has teamed up with amFar, a research-based organization committed to finding a cure for HIV, to help educate African-Americans about this preventable disease and to debunk myths that continue to put us at risk.
“[Over the years] I’ve heard all kinds of random crazy things like you can contract HIV by sitting next to someone who is positive or that it’s airborne and if someone coughs you can get it,” Ellis, who is a member of the organization’s Board of Trustees, recently told HelloBeautiful.
“Misconceptions cause this dark stigma; and we need to break it down. For me, if one person hears what I am saying, then hopefully they tell it to another person and so on,” the 35-year-old actor added.
He has a good point. This type of pay it forward attitude is exactly what we need to help bring new infections down, especially since we bear the brunt of this epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans account for nearly half of all new HIV infections each year, despite representing only 12 percent of the U.S. population.
We recently sat down with Ellis to discuss his collaboration with amFar, how HIV has affected his own personal life and whether or not Insecure will tackle safer sex and testing in the future.
HB: You could have chosen a number of other health issues to speak up about. Why HIV?
Jay Ellis: I lost an uncle to AIDS in the 90s and I have another family member who is HIV-positive. And with it hitting so close to home, that really made me want help others and bring about change.
HB: There are also plenty of HIV/AIDS organizations you could have partnered with, why amFar?
JE: For me, the biggest thing was their mission—it’s about finding a cure. And while they do work around prevention and treatment, their primary focus is using scientific endeavors to end this epidemic whether that’s with a vaccine, a cure or both. And that’s exciting.
HB: How close are we to that becoming a reality?
JE: Amfar’s Kevin Frost—who is such a fearless leader—has come out and said that by 2020, we want a scientific basis for a cure and that’s right around the corner. We’re so close and we can’t take our foot off the gas right now because this is within our reach and whatever I have to do to help, I will.
HB: So often when we talk about AIDS in Black America, we tend to focus on gay and bisexual men and Black women, with good reason given their transmission rates. But we often ignore straight men in the process. Being a straight Black male celebrity talking about the epidemic is really important.
JE: Definitely and this is the least that I can do. We live in an age where celebrities can tell us which way we should view a certain topic. And I want to stress: Black straight men need to be part of this conversation. HIV isn’t just about gay men. We are at risk like everyone else and straight men shying away from talking about safer sex and getting tested doesn’t help anyone, including ourselves.
HB: So there is a lot of sex on Insecure—which is a great thing if you ask me—but there hasn’t been any conversations about safer sex or HIV testing. Do you think that might change for future seasons with Issa, Molly and Lawrence being single on the show?
JE: I don’t know. You know Insecure is Issa’s love letter to Los Angeles and her friends and I don’t know what they have experienced or came across over the years.
HB: It’s just something to think about. Pass that on to Issa for us. It could make for great awkward TV. [Laughs]
JE: I will say when I first started acting I was in a car commercial and everyone time you are in a car you have to put a seat belt on. That’s our responsibility to show that safety. So I can only hope that in that final scene—where we cut to Lawrence and Tasha—that he is a smart enough dude who was in a relationship for so long that if he is stepping out of his comfort zone, he would probably use protection.
HB: Finally, February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, what are four things that our readers can do today to make a difference?
JE: Absolutely. Be prepared when you are out having sex, get tested and encourage others around you to get tested too. Also give time or resources to local and national HIV/AIDS organizations. If you can donate to places like amFar, great, if not, pass out on condoms or volunteer. Just get involved because we are close to a cure and organizations like amFar need our help on any level.
***This interview was edited for clarity and length.***