Jai Rodriguez is an actor, musician and Broadway performer best known for his role as the cultural advisor on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Netflix recently announced a reboot of the show, but it won’t be the same without his useful insight. Aside from being a diverse, talented performer, Rodriguez is also an advocate for gay men’s health and HIV, particularly in the queer Latinx community. HIV infections continue to rise among gay and bisexual Latino men, and the lifetime risk of HIV for gay and bi Latinos is one in four.
Rodriguez has partnered with the Positively Fearless campaign to help make an impact on the community. We caught up with him to learn more about his involvement with the campaign and all he is doing to use his voice and platform to help bring the Latinx community together and create change.
What prompted you to get involved with the Positively Fearless project?
When I was 16, I lost my aunt and cousin to AIDS. I also played an HIV-positive character in Rent. I got angry about what I didn’t know and wanted to be more active. I thought, “What’s it going to take?”
I am really gung ho about being a part of this great campaign and sending a strong message. It’s been great getting the word out about the reality of HIV in the Latinx community and encouraging people to be “positively fearless” when it comes to HIV. If you are HIV-positive, this means talking to your doctor honestly to find a treatment program that works for you, and stick to it.
If you are negative, like me, I hope you become part of the solution by being the kind of person that someone can share their status with and that they will not be judged. That is what will break down the barriers and the stigma.
What are some things that we can do specifically when it comes to HIV among our Latinx community?
Eradicating the stigma and shame from our community is going to be a crucial tool in reducing the impact of HIV among Latinx gay and bisexual men. To me, we’re all HIV-equal. I’m negative and want to inspire all gay and bisexual men to be fearless about disclosing their own status.
I won’t tolerate stigma in conversations around me. We must work to create a culture where that’s not tolerated and hold people accountable. As a community we need to come together and not shame each other.
What are some ways that gay men can integrate issues around HIV into what we do, particularly artists?
There have been a few good programs that help do this, such as Bad Sex on Logo. I lead with a sex-positive outlook and I share my view on sex-positivity. The Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) campaign has been great at bringing us a step closer to eradicating stigma.
We have so many more prevention options today, such as PrEP. How do you respond when people ask you about prevention options?
We’ve come such a long way in terms of medication options, both for the treatment and prevention of HIV. There are many ways to practice safe sex today and, no matter which you choose, the important thing is that you’re being proactive about your health. I want to encourage everyone to talk openly with their healthcare provider about which option will work best for them.
What change would you like to see around HIV in our community?
I’d like to see more people come out and be able to live in a world where they feel safe and comfortable. I try to be that friend who is open, listens and is non-judgmental. We have work to do but we’ve made strides. We are inching closer and closer. We have to take the time to discover what is happening and become more involved in the community.