“PrEP Rallies” bring in young Black men to HIV and PrEP services
Held at the health and wellness center Strut, in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, PrEP Rallies combine health information and services (including an opportunity to enroll in a PrEP program) with a dynamic social scene.
The events are specifically designed—by an innovative team of majority African American San Francisco AIDS Foundation staff and volunteers—to attract young African American men and their diverse social network with engaging social experiences like twerk battles, costume contests, music and more.
“The party also eases tension. We want people to come, so we frame it as ‘come to the party,’ instead of, ‘come to our clinic,’” said Joe Anthony Gonzalez, PrEP engagement and outreach coordinator for San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
“Our primary goal is to push out messages about PrEP, HIV and linkage to care, substance use and mental health. But, if you say that on a flyer—if you say it’s a health fair—people won’t come,” said Terrance Wilder, program coordinator for DREAAM (Determined to Respect and Encourage African American Men). “But once they’re there, they let down their walls and are open to hearing things that may help them with their sexual or mental health.”
Held quarterly, the PrEP Rallies now attract more than 100 people at each event. Jovon Bright, DREAAM program assistant, said that the team uses social media and face-to-face outreach to encourage people to attend. “We’ll do outreach at bars and clubs, in parks, at health clinics, and other social service organizations,” said Bright.
The most recent event, titled “Love, Sex & Magic,” featured a magician along with a DJ, prizes, food, and information about health services. It brought more than 100 people to the health center, with 21 people requesting testing for HIV, STIs or hepatitis C.
A Rally held before Halloween was a costume party and included a costume contest. “Everyone came in costume—the staff, the participants, everyone,” said Wilder. “The party was super dope, it was the most fun one yet.”
Held at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation health and wellness center Strut in the Castro, the PrEP Rallies have complementary goals:
- To introduce Strut and the services provided there as a place welcoming to Black men who are gay, trans and/or have sex with men
- To build community among young people of color
- To provide uninterrupted access to HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing services and PrEP enrollment services during the event
- To provide education in an informal setting about HIV, PrEP, testing, and other health issues
- To link people to other services offered by San Francisco AIDS Foundation (such as substance use programs and services)
Having hours dedicated to serving young gay men of color at the sexual health clinic has been crucial to the success of these events, said Tony Bradford, MA, associate director of community engagement.
“This is a great opportunity for clients to come to the clinic, see what’s going on, and get used to the clinical setting. During the PrEP Rallies, we have three hours reserved for people to get tested for HIV or STIs, or do other health screenings,” said Bradford.
At a PrEP Rally held in July, more than 30 people got tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Gonzalez said that in addition to doing onsite enrollments of people into the PrEP program, the PrEP counselors at the event help set up future PrEP appointments, answer questions about PrEP and generally “plant the seed” of PrEP as an option for people at risk for HIV.
“There was a person who I spoke with at a PrEP Rally that I met later at a different event. He said to me, ‘my situation has changed, and now I’m more interested in getting on PrEP. I know you offer the services, and [before] I just didn’t feel like it was a fit for me. But now my relationship status has changed and I feel like I should be on it,’” said Gonzalez.
PrEP Rallies center the lives of Black men
PrEP rallies center the lives of Black men between the ages of 18 and 30 who have sex with other men, and also welcome friends and allies wishing to attend.
Stigma, discrimination, homophobia and other barriers may prevent young Black men from readily accessing comprehensive HIV-related services, so overcoming these barriers is a primary concern for HIV prevention and treatment providers. In San Francisco and nationwide, young Black men who have sex with men are more affected by HIV than other groups of people: In 2015, nearly 4,000 young African American gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. In San Francisco, 15% of new diagnoses were among African Americans in 2016, while less than 6% of San Francisco’s population is African American.