(EDGE) F*ck w/out Fear is the message of a new campaign by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, officially launched on Sunday, January 8, to raise awareness for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a safe and effective tool to prevent HIV infection. PrEP involves taking a medicine once-daily that, if used correctly, has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 99 percent.
Those most at risk of HIV are gay and bisexual youth of color and transgender women. But a recent study by APLA Health of young gay and bisexual men revealed that Latino and African-American youth are the least likely to know about PrEP and less than 10 percent are using it. Those who do know about PrEP frequently have misconceptions about it, including the belief that it's not effective or safe and that it's unaffordable.
"It's widely believed that a two-pronged approach is what will be most effective at ending the transmission of HIV in the U.S.," said Robert Bolan M.D., Los Angeles LGBT Center chief medical officer. "Quickly linking newly diagnosed HIV positive people to care can reduce or eliminate the risk they can transmit the virus; it's the same treatment effect for people who have been living with HIV for a while or a long time. Then if HIV uninfected people who are most at-risk of infection successfully protect themselves from the virus, we can effectively end HIV transmission here. Because the availability of condoms alone hasn't been enough to stop HIV, we're excited about the promise of PrEP."
The Center's sex-positive F*ck w/out Fear campaign uses raw, real language to get people's attention and spur conversation. It also combats misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of PrEP and the belief that it's unaffordable. PrEP is now covered by most insurance plans and for those who are uninsured, the Center can help make it affordable through patient assistance programs. After a free PrEP consultation, which can now be scheduled online, most people will be able to leave with a prescription. Transportation assistance is available for those who don't live close to the Center's facilities in Hollywood and West Hollywood.
"We've got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic. Those at risk have to know about the tools, though, and they need honest information about them," said Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings. "Our campaign provides the truth about PrEP, the information and support to help people get a prescription, and a reminder that condoms are necessary to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases."
PrEPHere.org, the campaign website, includes a unique online tool to help gay and bisexual men determine how strong a candidate they are for PrEP. Based on data collected from people who have tested for HIV at the Center and from research published in the peer-reviewed journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the short quiz helps users determine their "PrEP score" and make a more informed decision about whether PrEP is right for them.
The campaign will include various events and grassroots advertising, in Spanish and English, to reach those most at risk, including:
- Outreach through: community events, Center programs that particularly serve transgender women and young men of color, and the Center's Mi Centro facility in Boyle Heights.
- Geo-targeted digital advertising and print ads
- "Paint the Town Blue" - On January 8 the Center will launch the campaign in partnership with bars in West Hollywood and Hollywood. Dozens of staff and volunteers will circulate through bars providing patrons with information about PrEP. The blue theme of the night hints at the blue color of the PrEP pill.
- Banjee Ball sponsorship - A vogue dance and runway event with live music performances. A cultural movement birthed out of the Black LGBT community, Banjee Ball has become a cherished space for young gay and bisexual men and transgender women of color.
- Andrew Christian "Fearless F*cker" T-Shirts - An Andrew Christian-designed "Fearless F*cker" t-shirt will be available for purchase at his flagship boutique in West Hollywood. All net profits from the sale of the $25 t-shirt support the Center's PrEP services.
Though great strides have been made in treating people with HIV through medical care, thousands of new HIV infections continue to occur each year. Nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with HIV in 2015 and one in eight people living with HIV don't know it. Without immediate intervention, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in two gay or bisexual black men and one in four gay or bisexual Latino men will be infected with HIV in their lives.
To learn more about the F*ck w/out Fear campaign, PrEP, and to book a free PrEP consultation online, visit PrEPHere.org.