San Fran campaign uses avatars to promote HIV testing


A San Francisco coalition of health officials, AIDS activists and policymakers has launched a multimedia campaign to encourage gay and bisexual men to get tested regularly for HIV.

The campaign, “Many Shades of Gay,” includes the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and San Francisco Department of Public Health and says to men: No matter what you’re into, get tested 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.”

Central to the effort is an interactive website that invites users to create a personalized, digital avatar. Described as “the most robust avatar generator ever built,” the site contains billions of customization options, including wardrobe, accessories, tattoos – and piercings – allowing people 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 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 Web,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 new people are infected with HIV every day in San Francisco. Nationwide, the infection rate is 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.


To see the campaign and create an avatar, visit