Richard Ruperto never thought of himself as an activist for gay men of color.
But when Ruperto walked into his subway station at 96th Street last month and saw a photo of him kissing Adonis Melendez on the forehead, he knew he was more than the boy who got beat up in school.
“I feel like I accomplished something so huge,” Ruperto, 26, said. “I always thought of myself as someone to have a voice for the voiceless, and I always said to my family and friends, I want to be a person that brings awareness. Now I’m an activist.”
Gay Men’s Health Crisis started the subway ad campaign, called “I Love my Boo,” in 2010 as a way to promote acceptance of young black and Latino men. According to GMHC, the ads highlight their strength and resilience rather than sexualizing them, and brings awareness that three-quarters of new HIV diagnoses in New York City in 2013 were among black and Hispanic men and women.
Since the city-wide campaign launched in mid-December, GMHC says a handful of the 260 posters have been torn down and defaced. Then, just before the new year, a video started circulating on social media.
“This is why n**** thinking it’s okay to be f***** gay. Nah, I ain’t ignoring this s***, bro,” a man’s voice -- angry, young, urban -- says while filming the poster featuring Ruperto. “This is what they got for the public to see, for little kids to walk past to see,” the voice said.
“For a second, it hit home,” said Rupert said of watching the video, which has since been taken down by the original poster. “It brought me back to being from Harlem, transferring from school to school. I’ve been stabbed, jumped so many times, and I used to live in fear. Now I’m in a better place,” Ruperto said.
Ruperto, a Hip-Hop artist who raps as “Loco Ninja,” said that despite the hateful video and subway ads being defaced, he’s proud to be a part of campaign that stirs up emotion, and the opportunity to “shift people’s beliefs.”
“I didn’t have that many mentors of people to look up to … anyone in my family that was gay,” Ruperto said. “Maybe if I (was a kid) and went down into the subways and see posters like that, maybe I would have learned quicker” to accept myself.
The campaign, with posters in 260 subway stations, runs through Jan. 15.
“This is an awfully challenging time in this country relating to racism,” said Kelsey Louie, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
Louie is a member of the state task force to end AIDS, and believes the goal of reducing new HIV infections to 750 annually by 2020 is challenging, but can accomplished.
“We have to continue much-needed dialogues and public service campaigns about how black lives matter, how young gay men’s lives matter, as all lives matter,” Louie said.