“I come to slay myths and spit facts about getting vaxxed,” says Ms. Information, a Black drag queen starring in a new social media campaign that FCB Health New York and GMHC are rolling out to counteract COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the LGBTQ+ community.
In catchy, shareable video clips, Ms. Information sashays onstage in a smashing leopard-print costume and a red bouffant hairdo to encourage people to “Get your jab, it’ll be fab.”
With COVID-19 infections on the rise from the new Delta variant, FCB Health NY and GMHC are bringing the push to get LGBTQ+ people vaccinated to social media, where misinformation about the vaccination has spread with the rapidity of the virus itself.
Facebook and Twitter account for about 72% of the rumors and conspiracy theories breeding around the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a study that got the attention of one of FCB Health NY’s executive creative directors, Salvatore Diana, and his colleagues last May.
“We were watching very eagerly as the vaccination percentages started ticking higher–and then they started hitting a plateau, and we realized that the LGBTQ+ community has its own vaccine hesitancy issues,” Diana said.
The health-focused ad agency decided to create the Ms. Information campaign as a public service and asked GMHC to partner on it to effectively reach the LGBTQ+ community. FCB Health NY and GMHC have worked closely on other LGBTQ+ initiatives–notably, the Blood Equality Project, which uses science to combat stigma over a discriminatory FDA blood donation policy for men who have sex with men, Diana said, so “GMHC was our first phone call.”
The Ms. Information campaign complements another GMHC initiative, COVID Destroyers, that began last year to provide education and masks to prevent new infections in the LGBTQ+ community. That initiative expanded this year with significant support from Janssen Therapeutics to include mental health support for people affected by COVID 19.
For the new initiative, FCB Health NY and GMHC are combating vaccine misinformation at the source–on social media with Ms. Information herself. The loud and proud drag queen persona, so quintessential to queer culture, was just the thing to push back against the rumor mill, Diana said.
LGBTQ+ people, particularly if they’re Black or Latino, can feel hesitant about getting vaccinated because of the stigma and discrimination they’ve historically experienced from medical providers and government agencies, Diana said. “There’s a mistrust, going back to the AIDS crisis–and it’s combined with the current misinformation around the vaccine.”
In fact, a Tegan and Sara Foundation survey found the top reasons LGBTQ+ people were holding off on getting vaccinated were concerns about side effects, long-term safety–and bad experiences with health care providers, especially if they’re transgender or genderqueer.
What’s more, LGBTQ+ people of color were 60% more likely to say they’re going to wait, the survey discovered, and a Kaiser Family Foundation report in July found similar racial gaps. In New York state, only 36% of Black and 47% of Hispanic people were vaccinated, compared with 52% of whites and 79% of Asians.
There’s a real life drag queen behind the Ms. Information persona–Miz Jade, an acclaimed performer in New York’s queer nightlife scene and also a storyteller for Drag Queen Story Hour at Brooklyn Public Library.
As a Black queer person, Miz Jade said she understands the fear and hesitancy around getting vaccinated. “The medical world has not been kind to LGBTQ+ people and, historically, to Black and Brown people,” she said.
But in Miz Jade’s world of queer artists, she said, “People are all about the vaccine, so we can get back to performing publicly as quickly as possible. We’re eager to get back in these queer spaces–so if it means getting the vaccine, we will do it.”
Ms. Information plays on that desire to reconnect in one video where she seductively brandishes cocktail glasses and purrs, “Honey. Enough with the quarantines! Get your vaccine so we can mix–and mingle.”
Miz Jade said Ms. Information’s fun fierceness in debunking fake news vibes with her own persona. “There’s a connection in the tone–the humor and playfulness,” she said, and so it didn’t surprise her that the character’s scriptwriter is also queer and of color.
GMHC and FCB Health NY are kicking off the vaccination campaign on social media. Expect to see more of Ms. Information in the fall, Diana said, when she’ll be making special appearances for podcasts and live events–including a drag show and vaccination brunch in September.
Miz Jade said that with the new influx of COVID cases, her alter ego’s messaging “will still have the playfulness, but the intensity of it might change.”
“I’m hoping the future for Ms. Information continues to be lighthearted–but it could go anywhere,” she added. “Ms. Information is going to be doing her researching–dotting her i’s and crossing her t’s.”