We Are Family: Technology helps marginalized communities put HIV prevention center stage


The House Ball Community (HBC), made up of “houses” and the elaborate balls they perform in, exists across the United States, including the Bay Area. Often taking their names from fashion icons (Mizrahi, Revlon, Balenciaga), the houses of ballroom culture offer their "children" a sense of belonging, as well as mentors who can provide advice and guidance—making individual houses excellent potential mechanisms for promoting regular HIV testing and strengthening engagement with African American Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (AAGBT) youth. The California HIV/AIDS Research Program’s (CHRP) team for We Are Family is charged with developing and conducting a preliminary test of an intervention for AAGBT youth involved in the Bay Area HBC.


The study’s specific aim is to leverage existing LGBTQ “family” and “house” networks to increase the flow of information, reduce stigma and ultimately motivate community members to reduce their sexual risk behavior, seek HIV testing at least every six months, and if they are HIV-positive, engage in and maintain care and treatment.

SOM Tech’s role was to partner with the We Are Family investigators to explore and develop digital tools that might support this work.


Emily Arnold, Principal Investigator, California HIV/AIDS Research Program (CHRP)

California Prostitutes Education Project (CAL-PEP), a UCSF community collaborative partner, provides health education and support services to people at high risk for HIV/AIDS.


SOM Tech employed participatory design methods to work iteratively directly with the community to scope, design and develop the tool. SOM Tech helped CHRP researchers design a tool that used videos, images and quizzes to make it easy for participants to engage with content and find services--successfully helping the team build community and reinforce the study’s messages.

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Today, the team is pilot-testing the We Are Family intervention, assessing its feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy in increasing regular HIV testing, and engagement in care and treatment. CHRP will conduct baseline and  six-month follow up assessments of behavioral outcomes and theoretically based mechanisms of change, and document best practices for an efficacy trial with the hope of replicating the approach in multiple communities across the country.