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 (Emily Arnold, Principal Investigator) to explore and develop digital tools that might support this work.

SOM Tech employed participatory design methods to work 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.

My work on this project: graphic and interaction design, workshop facilitation


Participatory design workshops enabled us to prioritize the app’s most useful features to:

Real Stories
Share stories and challenge HIV-related stigma through user submitted videos and photos

Find Services
Connect users to local resources with a service map locator and user submitted reviews

The Facts
Provide accurate information in a fun, engaging quiz format that’s updated weekly

We Are Family
Create a positive online community through the anonymous We Are Family site and WAF Facebook page