Earlier this year, GLAAD announced a partnership with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and AIDS United on what would have been Taylor’s 83rd birthday in order to renew the public conversation on HIV. In addition to releasing a style guide for journalists on how to cover current issues on HIV (on which Plus editors consulted), the three organizations, alongside spokespeople like Franzese, are calling on Hollywood to create more characters and storylines about those with HIV.
“It’s time to put our red ribbons back on,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said at the time. “Just as we advocated for accurate coverage of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, it is equally important today that we ensure fair, accurate, and inclusive stories in the media to build understanding that leads to better prevention.”
“I would say start using condoms immediately when you start having sex,” Franzese offers as advice to LGBT youth. “That way, it’s never an issue. And stay healthy and be tested and be aware.” It’s what he would tell the character he is most famous for, Damien in Mean Girls.
“Always use protection,” Ricamora stresses. “Always talk about your sexual history with the person that you’re with. And always know what your status is.”
Conversations about sex may not be easy. Particularly in Hollywood, sex, if it is portrayed at all, is depicted in the high heat of the moment and not the less sexy aftermath. But Ricamora says the U.S. and the media need to overcome their hang-ups in order to have conversations that will help save lives.
“People are scared to talk about sex in general, especially in this country,” Ricamora says. “C’mon, people are having sex! Why not make it something that’s comfortable to talk about…or be uncomfortable, but still talk about it? Because there are consequences — whether it’s getting pregnant or whether it’s getting an STD — that can go along with sex that can either be prevented or planned for.”
He adds, “If sex is continually regarded as a taboo in this country, then that means more people are going to make less smart decisions.”
Franzese agrees. Conversations, which can be encouraged and sparked by the media, lead to education. Education leads to testing. And testing leads to treatment and an end to an epidemic that has plagued the world for far too long.
“We have the tools out there currently right now to end new HIV infections by 96 percent,” he says. “They exist. But the first step is knowing your status and making sure that we’re able to stop it. It’s time that we make this new commitment to stopping HIV and AIDS once and for all.”