December 01, 2011 11:00 PM

Theo Wargo/Getty

Cyndi Lauper has a message for struggling LGBT youth: You’re not alone. “A lot of people are feeling bad about themselves, and when you’re a teenager you’re self destructive,” she tells PEOPLE. “But what seems terrible now won’t be terrible 10 years down the line. It’s not as bleak as it looks. You’ll get through it. You are precious. Protect yourself.”

Those words of caution come on World AIDS Day, a time to remember those who’ve lost their lives and those who are fighting to stay alive. “If you get yourself sick with AIDS, you’ll either be dead or living with AIDS,” Lauper says firmly. “It’s hard to go through life with a compromised immune system. AIDS is 100 percent preventable … but it’s 100 percent not curable.”

Lauper spent her World AIDS Day at the LGBT Youth Center in New York’s West Village, stuffing goodie bags for teens in need with an army of volunteers from M.A.C. Lauper has worked with the cosmetic brand for a number of years, specifically focusing on the Viva Glam collection and the charitable work of the M.A.C AIDS Fund. To date, the fund has raised more than $224 million to fight HIV/AIDS, and counts Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin and Nicki Minaj among its supporters.

“We have to communicate with our kids,” Lauper says. “Give your girls lipstick, and remind them that every time they put their M.A.C Viva Glam lipstick on and go out, to protect themselves.”

Rattling off some startling statistics — that one out of two new HIV infections are in people under the age of 24, and that bisexual and gay men are contracting the virus at as young as 13 years old — Lauper says that knowledge is power. “We have to empower youth to protect themselves and protect those they love,” she stresses. “We can’t allow them to be at risk any longer.”

–Kate Hogan

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