On Thursday, Frank Ocean stirred up his fanbase when he announced a one-night, invite-only club night in New York City called “PrEP+,” saying that the evening would imagine a world where the HIV/AIDS prevention drug had become available in the 1980s. But the reviews are in, and many LGBTQ fans are not happy.
So on Friday (Oct. 18), Ocean issued a statement meant to explain his vision for the evening and address some of the criticism it drew. He opened his letter by dispelling of any rumors that Gilead, the company that distributes the drug, had any affiliation with the event, saying “Not funded by Gilead Sciences … Funded by Blonded, independently.”
The star then layed out where the inspiration for the event came from, explaining how the club scene of the ’80s, the AIDS epidemic and the introduction and controversial pricing of PrEP inspired him to make an event that could raise awareness. “I decided to name, what was otherwise going to be a night of lights and music inspired by an era of clubbing that I loved, PrEP+,” he wrote in a post on his Tumblr titled “Re: Last night.” “I started to imagine in an era where so many lives were lost and so much promise was lost forever along with them, what would it have been like if something, anything had existed that in all probability would’ve saved thousands and thousands of lives.”
Even before the event took place at Queens’ Knockdown Center last night, some were immediately critical of the actual concept. One vocal critic was Northwestern University professor and queer scholar Dr. Steven W. Thrasher, who made clear in a lengthy Twitter thread that it was those living with HIV and AIDS who made the ’80s New York club scene what it was, and that Ocean’s attempts to erase that history felt like a “marketing opportunity.”
Similarly, the grassroots political group ACT UP said before the party that the event’s premise erased the impact made by those living and taking care of those with HIV and AIDS. “Let’s uplift our elders and honor their legacy,” they wrote on Twitter.
Ocean defended his decision to name the party PrEP+ in his statement, saying that when he proposed the idea to close friends, he became convinced that not enough people even knew what PrEP was. “I was discussing this subject with my team and one of the architects I work with thought that PrEP as a drug had reached ‘100% saturation’ so far as awareness,” he wrote. “I thought he was dead wrong so I asked a friend (who I won’t name haha) if he knew what PrEP was and his response was ‘isn’t that some type of viagra or something.’ My ex who I was with for several years didn’t know about it when we first met at a gay club in LA. Awareness isn’t always what we’d hope it would be.”
Ocean continued, saying that he was “happy that folks are talking about the subject in the first place” thanks to the event, and thanked those who attended. In his final sentences, the star waved off those who were calling the event a ploy for attention. “I saw someone say that this was a PR stunt etc etc, pshhh bitch pls come get a drink next time and I’ll put several barstools out so you can have as many seats as you need,” he wrote.
Read Ocean’s full statement here.