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Frank Ocean debuted nightclub events called “PrEP+” and $60 “PrEP+” T-shirts available to purchase on his website.
The openly gay R&B crooner announced the exclusive–you have to be invited to attend–nightclub events last week, with a Thursday press release stating that they’re “named PrEP+ as an homage to what could have been of the 1980s NYC club scene if the drug PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)—which can be taken daily to prevent HIV/AIDS for those who are not infected but are at high risk—had been invented in that era.”
With the first PrEP+ night happening shortly after the release, people who were in attendance said they didn’t understand what PrEP+ had to do with it, aside from being an attention-getting name.
“Mind you there’s no sex, no prep navigators, no community orgs,” activist Jason Rosenberg, who was in attendance, tweeted. “Not sure what he was trying to do here.”
so I’m at the frank ocean prep party and I guarantee you nightlife during the epidemic was far better than this.— Jason Rosenberg (@mynameisjro) October 18, 2019
mind you there’s no sex, no prep navigators, no community orgs. not sure what he was trying to do here.
First of all I thought it was a little weird that the event was advertised as a queer safe space but they made the invite process exclusive— IS THERE A BUDGET? (@goldenpolaroid) October 18, 2019
Was the marketing of the party short-sighted? Absolutely. Could there have been a larger awareness push around what PrEP is and it’s importance? Sure. Granted, all of this happened in a span of, what, 12hrs? Was the party, just a wack party overall? You bet your dick-loving ass.— ryan ryan ryan (@writelikeryan) October 18, 2019
After Thursday’s event, Ocean’s website began offering two T-shirts with “PrEP” written across the front, each at a price point of $60.
$60 for a shirt that says PrEP+, does he not see the irony?????? pic.twitter.com/kriXCIKZNa— Orenthal Jakob (@PleaseGetMeHelp) October 19, 2019
A number of folks, even within the LGBTQ community, remain uninformed as to what exactly PrEP is or how it functions. Educating the community about that, as well as lessening the stigma still surrounding HIV/AIDS, is a worthy goal.
But some are now questioning Ocean’s PrEP-themed events and merch, namely the high price point of the shirts. As the potentially life-saving drug is notoriously overpriced–many cannot even afford to get their hands on it–people feel that Ocean selling PrEP-themed merch at such a high price with no indication that proceeds will benefit LGBTQ+ or HIV/AIDS-focused organizations is tone-deaf.
“frank ocean selling shirts that say prep on them for $60 like ummmmm are you using the profits to donate to orgs that give out prep for free???? bc otherwise yikes my dude!” Twitter user @kell_eesi wrote.
Did everyone finally realized that we've been had/ PrEP was just a publicity stunt to plug Frank Ocean's new music or...🙄— Nayeli Portillo (@nayeliportillo_) October 20, 2019
Frank Ocean planning PrEP+ pic.twitter.com/Grqcf3P4Ic— dominic (@fagoraphobic) October 18, 2019
Writer Chris Thomas pointed out that PrEP’s price has increased by 45% in the past seven years. “But sure, let’s have Frank Ocean use a pill millions can’t afford to promo new music at a fake queer party and to sell $65 shirts,” he wrote.
"Since brand-name Truvada [PrEP] was approved for HIV prevention [in 2012], its average wholesale price has increased by about 45 percent."— Chris Thomas (@frailfag) October 19, 2019
But sure, let's have Frank Ocean use a pill millions can't afford to promo new music at a fake queer party and to sell $65 shirts
I love Frank but.. unless proceeds of his Prep shirt go to helping people have access to it... 🥴 v tone deaf— paige🔮 (@_paigeal) October 20, 2019
frank ocean selling shirts that say prep on them for $60 like ummmmm are you using the profits to donate to orgs that give out prep for free???? bc otherwise yikes my dude!— spookelly (@kell_eesi) October 19, 2019
I couldn’t give two shits about his PR stunts or Gilead, this is just so out of touch with the queer community and it is SO exploitive. I’m actually so mad this guy thinks putting PrEP on a t shirt is trendy and has the audacity to charge people $60 for it. Fuck this so hard— Tyler H. (@ttt_yler) October 19, 2019
A $60 tee with “PrEP” on it.— ACT UP New York (@actupny) October 19, 2019
Sounds familiar to a pharmaceutical company that marks up the price of PrEP to over $2,000/month while it costs $6 to make a month supply. This is not it Frank. https://t.co/TEFhi2UO5O
Ocean has yet to respond to the criticism over the $60 shirts, but he did respond to the PrEP+ club nights backlash.
“The pricing strategy behind [PrEP] is malicious in my opinion and so it’s public perception is marred and rightfully so,” he wrote. “But the fact remains that despite price being a very real barrier to this potentially life saving drug for some, the other very real barrier is awareness.”
Rachel Kiley is a writer who sometimes writes things and sometimes is based in L.A., but is definitely always on Twitter @rachelkiley.