ViiV Healthcare’s S Salon put Black women at the center of HIV/AIDS prevention

As Black women lead current HIV/AIDS cases, ViiV Healthcare tapped Amanda Seales, Ts Madison and more to create a safe space to discuss intimacy, pleasure, and the ongoing crisis.

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On the heels of a successful dinner party in New York City, ViiV Healthcare brought its S Salon, a safe space for Black women to engage with one another, to Washington, D.C.

ViiV Healthcare, TS Madison, Amanda Seales, Black women HIV/AIDS, United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA)
(Left to right) Award-winning comedian and actress Amanda Seales and Grammy-nominated artist Ts Madison talk onstage at ViiV Healthcare’s “The S Salon” in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jamie Maillard for theGrio)

Instead of a dinner party, the Washington, D.C., stop was a massive luncheon during the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS at the Marriott Marquis. Building on the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston’s salons, the event featured Amanda Seales, Ts Madison, spoken word poetry, music, and plenty of comedy spread across three acts: Desire, Intimacy, and Pleasure. Much like the sexual health activity books ViiV Healthcare launched earlier this year, the S Salon championed Black women while offering a safe space for them to engage with the fact that Black women continue to lead in new HIV/AIDS cases.  

“I love when we as a people get together to do major moves in our communities,” Ts Madison told theGrio. “So it’s always a wonderful thing for me. We, as Black people, need to always come together, especially on issues like this. The only thing I feel is missing from this equation here are the men […] Women can leave here knowing how important they are, how important the body is to protect and still be vulnerable and lay down with a dummy. So this is why there need to be more men present at these types of conferences .”

“Societal myths about who needs to think about HIV prevention, along with stigma, are preventing Black women from benefiting from the standard of care that has the potential to dramatically reduce transmission and improve quality of life for those living with HIV,” said Marc Meachem,  head of U.S. External Affairs for ViiV in a press release shared with theGrio. “It doesn’t have to be this way.” 

However, instead of the typically somber tone characteristic of discussions about HIV/AIDS, ViiV Healthcare created a cheerful ambiance in D.C.’s Marriott Marquis. Upon entering the space, the welcoming and fun energy of the room engulfed attendees. As jazz violinist Chelsey Green and The Green Project band played a lively melody of pop and R&B, guests were greeted with activity cards that asked them to fill in a mad-lib related to their hearts instead of the traditional bleak, statistic-filled pamphlets.

Though a festive vibe may not be one’s first thought when dealing with such heavy subject matter, it is for ViiV Healthcare. In fact, accessibility is the goal of ViiV Healthcare’s “Risk to Reasons” campaign, which asks people to focus on the many reasons they may have in their lives — outside of the daunting health risks — to protect themselves from the disease. 

The event started with a bluesy performance by Washington, D.C.’s own Baby Rose, wearing a sultry red gown, followed by ViiV Healthcare’s Senior Medical Director, Prevention Toyin Nwafor, officially kickstarting the event. During her welcoming remarks, Nwafor emphasized how much she “loved” that everyone was taking a moment to “pause to celebrate” the many contributions of Black women to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The entire event felt like a celebration of potentially the biggest reason to prevent this disease: the Black women in our lives. Spoken word poet Safia Elhillo performed a piece about how vital her close friends are. During the ”Intimacy” act, Amanda Seales and Ts Madison spoke candidly about sex and intimacy, with Ts Madison recounting a recent experience where a partner disclosed their trans identity later in the relationship and Seales reminding everyone that intimacy isn’t just physical. 

ViiV Healthcare, TS Madison, Amanda Seales, Black women HIV/AIDS, United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA)
Performances during ViiV Healthcare’s the S Salon. (Photo by Jamie Maillard for theGrio)

 “Intimacy requires emotional intellectualism about yourself,” Seales reminded the crowd. 

The concluding “Pleasure” act was filled with more performances by Baby Rose, the Howard Gospel Choir, and Chelsey Green and The Green Project. The soulful musical cacophony was exuberant, all in the name of amplifying how vital it is that Black women come together to protect themselves and each other.    

Sitting in the space was like being enveloped in a love letter to Black women. As Nwafor noted, the event was also a reminder: “We must continue to center Black women in the conversation of how we address HIV.”  

Kay Wicker

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands.

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