The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) granted GMHC $116,000 for an HIV prevention project that will use new media to engage target populations of the New York City house and ball community.
New York's house and ballroom subculture, which is comprised predominately of black and Latino LGBTQ individuals, is built upon an organizational structure of "houses" or clubs made up of surrogate families. House mothers and fathers often provide support for LGBTQ youth who otherwise might be homeless, nearly homeless, or without any familial support.
GMHC's new media based project, dubbed "Your Realness," aims to engage African American and Latino men who have sex with men and transgender women between ages 14-29 in the community by utilizing social media such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and mobile dating applications. The plan is to encourage healthier attitudes and behaviors regarding substance use and HIV risk among these young people and to connect them to HIV prevention and other supportive services.
"GMHC has worked closely with the house and ball community for more than 20 years," aid Janet Weinberg, chief operating officer and interim chief executive officer. "We are uniquely positioned in the community as the host of the Latex Ball, the largest annual Ballroom event, and as a respected HIV prevention service provider to make great impact through social media."
She added that GMHC's longtime relationship with house and ball leadership and members has allowed the group to gather important data on HIV prevention, as well. The campaign will recruit and train volunteer peer mentors to provide one-on-one and group counseling to members of the house and ball community, reinforcing messages about substance abuse and HIV prevention.
Weinberg anticipates that more than 3,000 individuals at high-risk for HIV or AIDS will be reached by these new campaigns, more than 300 will be directly engaged by in-person counseling, and more than 200 will access HIV tests or engage in other prevention services as a result of the project.