Lisaraye McCoy had her breakout role as Diamond in the 1998 comedy-drama movie The Players Club. Since then the actress has shone in several other film and TV projects, including VH1’s drama series Single Ladies. Now McCoy, the former first lady of the Turks and Caicos Islands, is embarking on a mission to raise AIDS awareness as a contributing member of Break the Silence (BTSCampaign.org), a grassroots social movement that attempts to change the way America thinks about HIV. McCoy spoke to us about why she joined the campaign and why she’s proud of how Single Ladies handled the issue of safe sex.
You’ve made it a personal mission to raise HIV awareness. What motivated you to raise your voice?
I have a 23-year-old daughter who is sexually active. So I worry because it seems like young people these days tend to think when they’ve had a boyfriend for longer than two months that it’s real and they’re going to live happily ever after and they can have sex without any protection. But young people need to know using a condom doesn’t mean you don’t trust your partner, it means you respect them and yourself as well.
HIV infection rates are rising in young people once again. As a mother and an HIV advocate, how do you speak to a generation that seems to have a more cavalier attitude toward the virus?
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s our fault because we’ve glamorized the way [HIV] looks, and we’ve got to take that back. We’ve got to really show young people what this disease looks like, how easily you can contract it, and how to protect yourself.
Is HIV a topic you’d like to see tackled in an episode of Single Ladies?
Oh, yes, but I will say I am happy with the way the show has responsibly covered the topic of safe sex. Just last season there was a scene where my character, Keisha, is told by her boyfriend that she’s worth waiting for if she didn’t want to have sex right away and then he dumped all these condoms in the nightstand next to her bed. After that, Keisha used the condoms to spell out something along the lines of “not yet,” and I thought that was such a great scene because it showed even though these two people were grown adults and they had been lovers in the past, they were still taking things slow, and when they did decide they wanted have sex it was going to be safe. I think the message that sends is huge, and I applaud the writers for the way they handled that scene.
When it comes to young people, gay teens are at an even higher risk for contracting HIV than their heterosexual counterparts, yet they’re a minority that is often overlooked when it comes to sex education in schools. How can we change that?
I think it’s changing now as more people are coming forward and being open about their sexuality. Also, it’s not like it was before—young people today are more aware of the entire spectrum of the LGBT community, and that’s a good thing, because seeing others who are like them and knowing it’s OK to be who you are means more gay youth will realize their value. That’s the first step in protecting yourself.
That’s why the work you do as an HIV advocate is so important?
Absolutely, as a celebrity I feel a responsibility to use my platform to help bring awareness to issues like this. It would be great if HIV awareness could be taught in every school, but until then we’ve got to do what we can to spread the word. Whether that means making PSAs or standing up and talking in front of a crowd, we’ve got to keep getting the information out there. Young people need to know they are worth protecting.