Canceling DaBaby is a missed opportunity for LGBTQ+ health advocacy

OPINION: To prevent stigma and misinformation from spreading like wildfire, we can use moments like DaBaby’s controversy to address homophobia and misinformation in the Black community

We may want to rethink canceling DaBaby

Whether he deserves a second chance is debatable, but canceling him means we miss an important opportunity to address homophobia and HIV/AIDS misconceptions in the Black community. 

DaBaby’s Comments at Rolling Cloud Sparks Backlash

Last week, the Cleveland-born rapper made headlines when he shared false and disparaging comments about gay men and HIV during a performance at a Miami music festival.

DaBaby’s comments not only broke the cardinal sins of promoting homophobia and misinformation spreading, but also perpetuated an “HIV is a gay disease” myth that is not only untrue but damaging to medicine’s overall sexual health efforts. 

It didn’t take long for DaBaby to feel the heat. The backlash was swift and fierce with celebrities, including Ellen Degeneres, Elton John, Demi Lovato, and Dua Lipa condemning his behavior. 

But instead of crafting a sincere apology DaBaby doubled down on his comments and released his music video for “Giving What It’s Supposed to Give” on Instagram. The cryptic title further angered his critics. DaBaby’s out-of-touch response was captured in his caption, where he noted the excellence of his performance and how it was being overshadowed by his insensitive comments, that were made in jest as a paid entertainer. 

In a series of subsequent Instagram stories, the rapper took his anti-gay diatribe further. “My gay fans, they take care of themselves. They ain’t got no nasty gay n****s, see what I’m saying? They ain’t no junkies on the street.”

Many believe the coup-de-grace to the rapper’s budding career came not as a result of his comments but his defiance and apathetic response. 

“Anybody who done ever been effected [sic] by AIDS/HIV y’all got the right to be upset, what I said was insensitive even though I have no intentions on offending anybody. So my apologies,” he wrote. “But the LGBT community… I ain’t trippin on y’all, do you. Y’all business is y’all business,” he continued, taking an unnecessary shot at the gay community. 

He has since issued a second apology, but many believe he only did so to stop the bleeding. The rapper has been dropped from several music festival lineups, including NYC’s Governors Ball, Austin City Limits, Day N Vegas, Lollapalooza and Music Midtown. 

Cancel Culture is a New Term, But an Old Practice 

The practice of public shaming is not new. Throughout history, transgressors who have violated unwritten and written social rules have been ousted from the group in Scarlet Letter-type fashion. DaBaby is simply the latest victim. 

Public shaming, which is now referred to as cancel culture, has been criticized for its perpetuation of intolerance and thought-policing, but its use has grown over the years. The aim of cancel culture is to cause shame and irreparable damage to one’s image for violating some agreed-upon social rule. Homophobia and misinformation-spreading, like racism and anti-Semitism, are two of innumerable cardinal sins that society has deemed as unacceptable in any context.

But just how far are we willing to go with our canceling and at what cost? Canceling everything and everyone who makes a mistake comes with a price. While calling out bad behavior is important, a culture that encourages people to be quick to cancel and reluctant to forgive is dangerous. It creates an environment that doesn’t allow anyone to disagree, have a change of heart, correct behavior, or learn from mistakes. After all, mistakes are part of what makes us human. They’re how we grow and develop as people.

An Opportunity to Highlight LGBTQ+ Health

HIV/AIDS myths, negative beliefs, and discrimination in the healthcare system affect the physical and mental health of gay, bisexual, and other members of the LGBTQ+ community. Stigma affects whether one seeks and is able to get health services, and the quality of the services they may receive.

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HIV/AIDS rates are higher in the LGBTQ+ community compared to the heterosexual community and are highest among Black people. There are many reasons why these health disparities exist, but high-risk sexual practice and drug use are often the only ones that are discussed. Despite clear evidence that points to differences in the living conditions of gay and heterosexual individuals as the major contributors of sexual health disparities, and the beneficial effects of structural interventions, there have been limited efforts targeting these social inequalities.

Current interventions focus solely on changing individual high-risk sexual behaviors, although there has been more widespread use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP), a medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. 

Homophobia, especially in the Black community, is also a major obstacle to a progressive health movement that aims to provide affirmative care for LGBTQ+, transgender, and gender non-conforming people. 

One way to prevent stigma and misinformation from spreading like wildfire is to use moments like these to address the real issues at hand, homophobia and misinformation in the Black community. Educating rappers like DaBaby and those who agree with his hurtful comments is a step that we must take. Changing one’s heart and mind may seem trite and idealistic, but this hard work is the core of public health. If he is sincere in his apology there may be a chance to rewrite this chapter — from adversary to advocate of the LGBTQ+ community — and if we’re lucky maybe he’ll use his influence and bullish mentality to change some young, impressionable minds along the way.

Dr. Shamard Charles is an assistant professor of public health and health promotion at St. Francis College and sits on the anti-bias review board of Dot Dash/VeryWell Health. He is also host of the health podcast, Heart Over Hype. He received his medical degree from the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and his Masters of Public Health from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Previously, he spent three years as senior health journalist for NBC News and served as a Global Press Fellow for the United Nations Foundation. You can follow him on Instagram @askdrcharles or Twitter @DrCharles_NBC.

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