Many Shades of Gay

Note: The Many Shades of Gay campaign ran from June 2012 to October 2014, and engaged users’ creativity and personal expression to build awareness about the importance of regular HIV screening. With over 10,000 personalized avatars created throughout the campaign, the campaign was successful in pioneering digital social media to prevent HIV and increase testing efforts. Please explore our website to learn about our current initiatives.

We have made tremendous progress in recent years to reduce new HIV infections, here in San Francisco and nationwide. But with infection rates still on the rise among gay and bisexual men—the only risk group for which this is the case—we know we can do better. That’s why we are proud to introduce an innovative new public health campaign to encourage gay and bisexual men to test regularly for HIV and make frequent HIV testing the social norm.

The campaign is called “Many Shades of Gay.” It celebrates the diversity of the gay community while focusing on one simple message: No matter what you’re into, get an HIV test every six months.

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 allows users to opt in to receive reminders via email or text from their avatar when it’s time to get another HIV test. Guys who create an avatar are invited to keep the campaign going by sharing it through social media channels and inviting friends to join the effort.

The site also includes a channel for HIV-positive guys, which provides health information and resources to connect them to HIV treatment and care. Studies show that early detection and treatment of HIV can dramatically reduce a person’s chances of spreading the virus to someone else.

We invite you to take a moment for some creative fun. Make and share an avatar at It’s simple and easy, and your efforts will help us change the way we think about HIV testing in our community.

Have you made an avatar? What do you think of the campaign? Have you recommended it to your friends and family?

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