The San Francisco AIDS Foundation Bridgemen program began in 2010 as a way to engage gay, bi, and trans men through community service to improve social norms, social connections, and the physical and mental health of its members. Bridgemen specifically focuses on improving the social connections of men who are new to the city or otherwise in need of social support—since social isolation is a known risk factor for HIV transmission and linked to worse health outcomes for those living with the virus.
Since its inception, over 300 men have attended an event specifically related to HIV or another sexual health topic, almost 500 have volunteered at Bridgemen service projects, and over 2,000 have attended a social event.
A survey conducted with a portion of Bridgemen participants found that benefits conferred by the group—especially for those men with greater involvement—included better HIV knowledge, more frequent HIV/STI testing, better social support, a greater sense of belonging, and a higher comfort-level talking to other men about sex and negotiating issues like using condoms, PrEP, and open relationships.
Jared Hemming, Bridgemen’s program manager, graciously offered to answer our questions about this successful and well-regarded San Francisco group—and most importantly tells us what to do if we want to join.
Why is it important to have a group like Bridgemen for gay, bi, and trans men in San Francisco?
In San Francisco, there’s a such a big, diverse gay population. You get all these little pockets of different people and groups across the city. I think a lot of times, if you feel like you don’t fit into a certain group, or like you don’t belong in a certain place, it’s hard to find connection.
What we do with Bridgemen, is to try to bridge all of those communities and get them together by working on a shared mission or service project. All kinds of people can participate and feel comfortable in our group no matter their background or where they’re coming from.
Bridgemen also aims to improve the physical and mental health of its members. How does the group do that?
A couple of ways. We do hold events that are specifically related to sexual health and HIV. We also hold a lot of events and meetings at our sexual health clinic, and even if they don’t have some specific educational component, men still get acquainted with the clinic and may be more comfortable accessing services there in the future. But also—a big part of Bridgemen is about improving social connections. When people are more connected socially, when they are able to get support from other members, they’re better able to take care of their health.
You’re moving to a new location in the Castro pretty soon. What’s that going to be like?
Being in the Castro is going to be fantastic. And the new building has some really amazing event spaces—there’s a great space on the third floor that has sliding doors we can make into an indoor/outdoor space with the patio. And all of the foundation’s services will be in one building—so it will be easy to link our men to other services for substance use or sexual health if need be.
What’s been your favorite Bridgemen activity or event so far?
I can think of two that really stick out. One was a toy drive we did during the holidays for the San Francisco fire department. We got about 250 toys donated! We had a big social event—which we held at Magnet—in the evening. Everyone had a good time, and the fire department was really excited when we dropped all the toys off.
The other was a Habitat for Humanity event, where we worked for a full day building houses. There was a group of about 15 of us that went—a big day of manual labor that was tiring but was a great experience.
How can people interested in Bridgemen join?
Check out our website, and RSVP for one of our events listed there! This month, we’re going to be volunteering at the National AIDS Memorial Grove by beautifying the area on Saturday March 21. If you’re an animal lover—we’re also helping the organization PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) by bathing dogs on March 25.
The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.
Our diverse programs help thousands of people every year. From testing to prevention to care, our services assist communities where need is greatest.