"PrEP Rallies," held at the health and wellness center Strut, in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, 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 mostly African American San Francisco AIDS Foundation staff and volunteers — to attract young black men and their diverse social network with engaging social experiences such as twerk battles, costume contests, live 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.”
The last PrEP Rally (held just 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.”
The quarterly event typically attracts around 150 people or more 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.
Gonzalez adds 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, and basically “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.
The PrEP Rally program's goals:
To introduce Strut and the services provided there as a place welcoming to black men who are gay, bi, 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 the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (such as substance abuse programs and services).
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. According to the CDC, in 2015, nearly 4,000 young African American gay and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. In San Francisco, 15 percent of new diagnoses were among African Americans in 2016, while less than 6 perecnt of San Francisco’s population is African American.
The next PrEP rally will be held on February 24, 2018. Details about the next event will be shared on the DREAAM Project Facebook page (follow the DREAAM Project on Facebook and to find out more about the DREAAM Project).