The album dropped Sept. 17 after a months-long promotional buildup that included sneaker controversies, unapologetically queer music videos, Twitter wars with conservatives and big appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” at the Met Gala and during the MTV Video Music Awards.
Staying true to the artist’s ability to make headlines, promotions also included a “baby shower” before Lil Nas X “gave birth” to “Montero.” Each track on the album coincided with a charity beneficiary on Lil Nas X’s “baby registry” of giving.
The Atlanta rapper included the Counter Narrative Project, THRIVE SS and Compassionate Atlanta on the registry. Donations poured in from across the U.S. after the registry went live earlier this month.
“We were just floored,” THRIVE SS executive director Larry Walker told Project Q Atlanta. “We were very honored not only to have the support of a celebrity, but to have the support of one of the first modern day queer Black male celebrities felt really cool.”
THRIVE SS supports health equity for Black gay men living with HIV. Lil Nas X’s donation push comes at a time when HIV has become “background noise,” according to Walker.
“It’s good to see the Black queer artists hold up the very real epidemic of HIV,” he said. “We’re honored and excited to have been shouted out in this way.”
Atlanta faces the second-highest rate of new HIV infections of any city in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
‘An incredible honor’
The Counter Narrative Project works to shift rhetoric, change policies and improve the lives of Black gay men in Atlanta. Lil Nas X’s registry is “an incredible honor,” according to founder and executive director Charles Stephens.
“Visibility for our work to raise awareness around HIV advocacy is critical, especially because our community remains disproportionately impacted,” Stephens said in a press release. “It’s also remarkable for an artist with the influence of Lil Nas X to use his platform in such a powerful way.”
Compassionate Atlanta works around the intersection of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, mental health, disability and HIV. The group was “surprised and honored,” according to co-director Iyabo Onipede.
“We are all about birthing, growing and partnering to uplift compassion,” Onipede told Project Q. “This is how we build healthy, thriving communities where everyone feels a sense of belonging. We want everyone to have a place at the table.”
Atlanta man cameos in VMA performance
An Atlanta HIV activist also made a brief appearance in Lil Nas X’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 12. The rapper performed two songs, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Industry Baby.”
Mardrequs Harris wore the number 433,816 to represent the number of people with HIV in the South as of 2015. Harris is the director of community investments for the Southern AIDS Coalition.
“This experience was surreal!” Harris said in a press release. “Having the opportunity to share the stage with Lil Nas X was something I never would have imagined. And to have him use his platform to raise awareness about HIV stigma is invaluable to our work.”
“When public figures like Lil Nas X — particularly those from the U.S. South — use their platforms to communicate HIV facts, it encourages a new generation to join this fight to end this epidemic once and for all,” added Dafina Ward, Southern AIDS Coalition’s executive director.
Lil Nas X went on to win Video of the Year during the awards show. He also retweeted the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation with a picture of Harris and dancers from the VMA performance.