The Columbus, Ohio, HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ health nonprofit Equitas Health has a new social-media video platform featuring the sweatsuited and wigged sexpert duo of Shay and TK. Actually, they’re Equitas prevention staffers Alex Frazier (Shay) and Dkéama Alexis (TK), who hope that their snappy banter and HIV/Safe Sex 101 lessons will help reach communities in Ohio and beyond that are most at risk for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). TheBody chatted with the duo about how they developed their characters, the origins of the series, and where they take their inspiration from.
Tim Murphy: Thanks for making time to talk today, Alex and Dkéama. Tell us about how the Shay and TK videos came to be.
Alex Frazier: Prior to working at Equitas, I was a performing arts educator, so I’m always trying to figure out ways to incorporate art in our work. We were selected to speak at the 2020 SYNChronicity conference on HIV and LGBTQ health, before COVID when it was set for May, and we were going to present on Equitas/OHIV.org’s HIV-test-at-home program, the first one in Ohio. We were looking for a way to stand out among all the plenaries and breakout sessions. So at first we thought we’d wear track suits and come in with music and choreography, but then we developed the idea that maybe these should be permanent characters.
Dkéama Alexis: But then COVID took hold, and the conference got pushed back and moved to a virtual setting later in the year. But we still had the ideas for the characters and wanted to start working with them. We were approached about doing a livestream on Facebook during National HIV Testing Day on June 27, so we worked with Devin Quinn, senior prevention programs manager, and the marketing team, and we were able to debut the characters in June.
TM: Have you done another video since that one?
Frazier: We haven’t done another full-length video since. We shot a series of small promotional videos, but we’re currently working on a bigger project for Shay and TK that is set to premier in January. It’s still in the early development stages, but it’ll include a series of short talks on a weekly basis on different sexual health topics, such as different HIV prophylactics, how to advocate for yourself in the medical world as an HIV-positive or -negative person from a variety of different marginalized backgrounds.
Also, the Ohio Youth Leadership Summit [previously the Positive Youth Leadership Summit] is starting this Saturday, and we’ll be meeting via webinar the third Saturday of the month for the next few months, and Shay and TK’s characters are a major part of the presentation.
TM: Dkéama, how did the characters of Shay and TK develop?
Alexis: A lot of the props go to Alex for coming up with the character sketches and bringing them to life. Shay and TK are Alex’s brainchild because Alex is very creative, but as we started to talk about the characters more, I brought in my own research and community organizing background to help shape the characters as well. They’re fun and down-to-earth. But it’s important for them to have a political outlook on HIV, STIs, and sexuality, because we live in a world where transmission of HIV is political and affects some communities more because of racism, poverty, and stigma. So as Black people moving through this world, we wanted to make sure that we were infusing them with real-life perspectives and experience.
TM: What has the feedback been so far?
Frazier: Positive. June was HIV Testing Month, so we did a segment where TK got tested on camera, and from that we’ve continued to see an increase in at-home testing orders, which is a big win for the community.
Alexis: I even had friends in Georgia, where I’m from, watch the livestream and enjoy it.
TM: What artists have you taken inspiration from for this project?
Frazier: I’m a really big fan of Nina Simone, who said that it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times. I think it’s the duty of all people, in the work they do, to notice, understand, and respond appropriately to what’s going on in the world. We want people to have access to knowledge about sexual health.
Alexis: The first person who comes to mind for me is Donna Summer. She has an air of grace and beauty about her, and was an incredible singer. I also have massive respect for Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell. All three are Black women who take up space in their own way and defend their authenticity and their spirit. They’re audacious. But to speak more generally, I’m rooting for and sending love to everybody Black, especially those who are queer and trans. Our community’s ability to maintain authenticity is a huge source of inspiration for me every day, so anybody who is providing creativity and love in that way who is Black, queer, and trans, I am all eyes and ears.