AIDS groups, app reps discuss outreach

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Wednesday October 29, 2014
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Hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff are working with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other health organizations to educate users about HIV and other diseases, encourage testing, and reduce stigma.

SFAF released a report last week following a meeting it had with representatives of hookup apps and websites and people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tim Patriarca, SFAF's executive director of gay and bi men's health and wellness, said in an interview that the meeting was "the largest group of gay dating and hookup websites to get together with HIV and STI prevention leaders."

Gay UCSF researcher Dan Wohlfeiler, another meeting organizer, said, "We know these dating sites reach millions more people than we ever will in public health."

At the September meeting, site and app owners said they would promote testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and work with public health leaders to spread updated information, according to the report on the "Building healthy online communities" meeting.

They also said they would work to reduce HIV stigma. Possible methods include allowing users to choose profile options such as "undetectable" and "poz-friendly."

Scruff is one of the apps that's already taken steps to educate people.

In August, the app started Benevolads, a program that offers free banner ads for public health organizations and nonprofits. (More information is available at

"Our customers are the gay community and being gay men ourselves, these are issues that are very relevant to us," said Scruff co-founder Jason Marchant in an interview.

In an email, Grindr founder and CEO Joel Simkhai said the new partnership with SFAF and others "is just an extension of the great work we've already done."

He said one of the app's guidelines is that users aren't allowed to include "sexually explicit references or text that promotes unsafe sex" in their profiles.

According to SFAF, Kaiser Family Foundation survey findings released in September show that only three in 10 gay and bisexual men say they got an HIV test within the last year.


Users supportive

A couple men who use hookup sites expressed support for seeing more outreach.

"Not talking about it means we're not going to talk about the things important to protect one's self," said a 53-year-old Scruff user from San Francisco who didn't want his name published because of his work.

The man, who's living with HIV and has an undetectable viral load, said he "almost never" uses condoms and is "up front" about his status. On Scruff, he has a plus sign near his name, and he discloses more information in his profile. He said being honest about his status has led other people to ask him questions about HIV.

Ron, 49, a Grindr user who works in San Francisco, said more outreach is "a good idea."

"People get lost, myself included," in the app, said Ron, who didn't want his last name published because of his job. "You can get so titillated by the comments" and "lose track of reality."

Ron's HIV-negative and always uses a condom, and he said he's "absolutely stunned" by younger people on the site who want to bareback.

As previously reported in the Bay Area Reporter , health workers in San Mateo and Marin counties have been using fake profiles on hookup apps to do outreach work, but Patriarca indicated SFAF wouldn't use such a strategy, since it's not "the most effective way to do prevention work."

The "Building Healthy Communities" report is available at