LGBT HERO began its journey in 1992 as Gay Men Fighting AIDs (GMFA). In September 2023, the organisation launched a special online archive to celebrate the legacy of GMFA. Below is the history of how GMFA became LGBT HERO with a link to the archive where you can view the amazing work GMFA achieved since 1992.
Gay Men Fighting AIDS, also known as the abbreviation GMFA, has a history of speaking honestly and without a filter. Initially finding its feet as a group borne from the frustration and activism of a group of gay men in 1992, GMFA quickly became known for its on the ground, community embedded activism that put the autonomy and control back into the hands of the people and communities that HIV and AIDS were directly impacting.
GMFA was established in 1992 by a group of gay men who felt that there was not enough HIV prevention work being specifically targeted at gay men. Originally named Gay Men Fighting AIDS, GMFA’s initial remit was to campaign for more targeted HIV prevention work aimed at gay men, and to raise awareness of HIV amongst gay men, improving gay men’s health by increasing the control they have over their own lives. With strong activist roots, GMFA believed that the best health promotion for gay men came from gay men themselves, and so the organisation utilised the knowledge, ideas and lived experiences of approximately 170 volunteers (most of them gay men) to design and plan thought provoking sexual health interventions.
From the beginning, GMFA used a model of community mobilisation and peer education. Rather than just producing health promotion aimed at gay men, GMFA wanted gay men to play a central role in the design and delivery of interventions. Many things about GMFA changed in the subsequent years as HIV work, and sexual health promotion and interventions more generally, evolved, but retaining gay men at the heart of GMFA and the organisation's work did not. GMFA had up to 200 active volunteers, who were drawn to GMFA by our unique methods of developing projects and policies built around being a truly volunteer-led organisation.
GMFA produced a range of advertising campaigns, leaflets, postcards and booklets. Independent surveys have concluded that our campaigns reach up to 60% of the London gay population and we are the most reliable agency at reaching gay men. In addition to this we distributed our own health magazine, FS, free to London’s gay bars and clubs to further educate gay men about relationships, their bodies, general health and STIs. Since 1992 we have provided courses for over 10,000 gay men, providing safer sex education, life skills and stop smoking courses. We provided a range of groupwork interventions across England and Wales. GMFA had Big Lottery funding which was used to create award winning sexual health interventions for Black gay men in London.
GMFA's expertise and reach was far-flung, with a focus on community and knowledge building across platforms. Designed to appeal to young gay men, one of GMFA's lasting legacies is FS, originally known as F**k Sheet. FS was GMFA's bi-monthly magazine containing information on gay men's health and HIV related issues, providing gay men with health and HIV information, advice, support and research in a clear and understandable format. GMFA also always provided free groupwork courses for gay men and, since 1992, over ten thousand gay men were trained in the skills-based programme of workshops, with GMFA delivering groupwork to over 1,000 men per year. Perhaps the most well-known work that GMFA engaged in was in producing advertising campaigns addressing a broad spectrum of HIV-prevention and other gay men’s health issues, with evaluation showing that London’s gay men were more likely to recognise GMFA’s HIV prevention campaigns than those of any other agency, making GMFA the most reliable agency at reaching gay men within London and the UK. GMFA also produced ‘small media’ (such as booklets, postcards and leaflets) as part of London’s HIV prevention initiatives, creating two new booklets each year using volunteer input to help create concepts, design and copy and distributing up to 30,000 copies of these leaflets on the gay scene.
The Positive Campaign Group at GMFA was a group of HIV-positive and HIV-negative volunteers who produced groundbreaking campaigns specifically aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of HIV-positive gay men since 1995. GMFA believed that the health of gay men who already had HIV was equally important as the health and wellbeing of HIV-negative or untested gay men, and the Positive Campaign Group produced a wide variety of interventions including advertising in the gay and positive press, posters, leaflets, web based information and even an audio tape for newly diagnosed gay men. Campaigns tackled issues such as disclosure, informed men about HIV treatment, avoiding co-infections and re-infection and encouraged men to envisage a future for themselves while providing them with means to achieve that future through referrals to support organisations.
With a varied history of active promotion, intervention and community based activist work, in 2001 GMFA merged with the black gay men’s group Big Up and in 2002, GMFA broadened its remit to include all health issues which disproportionately affect gay men over other populations. GMFA's mission statement was changed to reflect this evolution, from 'Gay Men Fighting AIDS' to 'GMFA - the gay men's health charity'. With the ultimate goal of improving gay men’s health by increasing their control over their own lives, this mission was the guiding principle which governed all GMFA's work. GMFA's role was to provide gay men with accurate and credible information, and with the skills that enabled them to make informed choices and exercise control over their own actions. GMFA did not attempt to make gay men lead healthier lives, nor attempt to construct an environment where the only options gay men had were those that supported healthy lifestyles. Whilst GMFA did, naturally, want gay men to be healthy, the organisation was unique in that it recognised that, as adults, gay men had the right to make their own choices in life, and at times, might choose to do things which may not be good for their health.
In 2010, the board of GMFA decided to expand the remit of the charity, many believed that the work GMFA was doing could benefit the wider LGBTQ+ community. In 2011, the charity adopted a parent organisation called 'Health Equality and Rights Organisation' or HERO for short. By adopting a parent organisation, this allowed the charity to open such things like groupwork to the wider community. The idea was that GMFA would continue to provide its work to gay men while HERO would expand on work for wider LGBTQ+ people. However, the impact of the financial crash in 2009 eventually took its toll on the charity sector and although HERO was launched, the public facing side of HERO was put on ice while the charity navigated a new era where its funding disappeared.
During the 2010's the charity continued on its role in providing gay men with information, advice and support through GMFA as it remained the public facing side of its work. In 2016, the charity when through a major overall as with a complete restructure. In an ever changing society, with social media, better internet and better access to support it was clear the work GMFA was doing needed to adapt and the board of directors engaged with a new CEO to restart the HERO project. In 2017, the charity created a new sub-brand called OutLife - aimed to expend its LGBTQ+ information, advice and support with HERO acting as a patent organisation. The charity would continue with GMFA, now rebranded The Gay Men's Health Project, working along OutLife.
However, in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was clear to the board of directors that the model of HERO working as a parent organisation with two brands was too much for a charity of its size. It was also clear that people's health and wellbeing needs were changing and HIV and sexual health was not as big a priority as we've seen in the past. More people were looking for information, advice and support on a range of issues such as mental health, suicide prevention, gender and sexuality, coming out, alcohol and drugs and hate crime and discrimination. The charity felt that what was needed was a GMFA of the 90s and 2000s for LGBTQ+ people. In 2021, the charity merged all three faces of the organisation to become LGBT HERO - a national health and wellbeing charity. The aim was to take the ethos, history and experience of GMFA and put it into LGBT HERO creating a leader who can champion the health and rights of LGBTQ+ people while providing a platform where they can create personal and social change.
In 2022, LGBT HERO decided to retire the GMFA brand. However, it was important to the charity that we recognised the legacy of GMFA and celebrated its success. This is why this archive has been built. We want to make sure GMFA is not forgotten and that people can access the work we did since 1992. GMFA most certainly contributed to saving lots of gay men dying from AIDS. It fulfilled it aims and objectives when it was set up. With LGBT HERO we will promise to bring GMFA with us everywhere we go. We know it means a lot to you.