SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco AIDS Foundation, San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), and a coalition of partners today launched an innovative multimedia effort to encourage gay and bisexual men to test regularly for HIV and make frequent HIV testing the social norm in the community.
"Many Shades of Gay" celebrates the diversity of the gay community and focuses on one simple message: No matter what you're into, get an HIV test every six months.
"This is an HIV testing campaign unlike anything we've seen before. Not only is it creative, fun, and interactive, it also carries a vitally important message for gay and bisexual men: regular HIV testing is good for your health, your sex partners, and our entire community," said Neil Giuliano, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "We are an incredibly diverse community, and the fight against HIV unites us all—getting tested frequently for HIV can, too."
At the heart of the effort is an interactive and educational website that invites users to create a personalized avatar — a tiny, digital version of themselves. Described as "the most robust avatar generator ever built," it contains literally billions of customization options, including wardrobe, accessories, tattoos, and piercings — allowing gay and bisexual men to create an avatar as conservative or campy as they desire. Once an avatar is created, it informs the user about the importance of regular HIV testing and helps them to find the nearest testing location.
The website also allows users to opt in to receive reminders via email or text from their avatar when it's time to get another HIV test. The site also includes a channel for HIV-positive guys, which provides health information and resources to connect them to HIV treatment and care.
"The San Francisco Department of Public Health and many community-based service providers are focused heavily on increasing both the supply and demand for HIV tests among gay and bisexual men," said Tracey Packer, acting director of HIV Prevention at SFDPH. "We've worked hard in the past year to scale up the number of HIV tests offered throughout San Francisco, and 'Many Shades of Gay' is the kind of bold, attention-getting campaign we need to increase demand for those tests."
In the first phase of "Many Shades of Gay," avatars will blanket San Francisco, the Internet and Social Media. Once users create their avatars, they are invited to keep the campaign going by sharing it through social media channels and inviting friends to join the effort.
Two more people are infected with HIV every day in San Francisco. Nationwide, the infection rate is actually rising among gay and bisexual men — the only risk group for which this is the case — with communities of color especially hard hit. Studies show that early detection and treatment of HIV can dramatically reduce a person's chances of spreading the virus to someone else.
"Many Shades of Gay" is a collaboration between San Francisco AIDS Foundation, San Francisco Department of Public Health, ISIS, Alliance Health Project, Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, Mission Neighborhood Health Center, and funders from the public and private sector. Global advertising agency ATTIK is providing pro bono creative development for the campaign.
To see the campaign and create an avatar, visit www.ManyShadesOfGay.com.
About San Francisco AIDS Foundation
No city experienced epidemic levels of HIV faster than San Francisco. At San Francisco AIDS Foundation, we work to end the epidemic where it first took hold, and eventually everywhere. Established in 1982, our mission is the radical reduction of new infections in San Francisco. Through education, advocacy, and direct services for prevention and care, we are confronting HIV in communities most vulnerable to the disease. We refuse to accept that HIV transmission is inevitable. For more information, visit www.sfaf.org.