Public Health celebrates 28 years of Pride

A booth in the late 1980s early 1990s at a Pride Festival in what was then the Bobby Morris Playfield and is now Cal Anderson Park. The booth invited people to taste different flavored lubes and condoms.
A booth in the late 1980s early 1990s at a Pride Festival in what was then the Bobby Morris Playfield and is now Cal Anderson Park. The booth invited people to taste different flavored lubes and condoms.

Our department, led by what is now the HIV/STD Program, has participated in Pride festivities every year since 1987. Until now, each department, including Public Health, marched separately, but this year King County employees from every department are marching together.

We are excited that everyone is joining forces to assemble our largest contingent yet, and we want to share our rich history at this event with all newcomers.

At our inaugural march more than 25 years ago, Public Health was represented by 40 people affiliated with the AIDS Prevention Project, a group that promoted awareness, prevention, and testing for HIV at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The following year, the group used the parade as a platform for recruiting people to participate in the “Be a Star” study, which used celebrity pseudonyms, like Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, and Oscar Wilde, to anonymously remind folks to return for study visits.

For a while, the team skipped the parade and instead focused their efforts on providing free, anonymous testing at the Pride festival. By the early 2000s and going forward, the HIV/STD Program was back in the parade, showcasing their latest social marketing campaigns. You may remember the Little Prick and Find Your Frequency.

The evolution of Public Health’s participation in Pride mirrors the evolving culture, political climate, and needs of the LGBT community. As the AIDS epidemic unfolded, the event became a key opportunity for health promotion.

Street table from the late 1980s recruiting for the “Be a Star” study.
Street table from the late 1980s recruiting for the “Be a Star” study.

HIV still remains an issue, and getting folks tested and treated is still a major initiative of the HIV/STD program. But, the changing social environment and increasingly better health outcomes has helped remind us of Pride’s original purpose – celebration of a community, of identity, and of people. Cheers are expected to be extra joyful this weekend, as the entire nation revels in today’s Supreme Court ruling that made marriage possible for everyone.

“Pride started out as a celebration of identity and political protest.  In the 80s we started to see a shift. People were grieving, and many entries  took on a somber tone,” said Frank Chafee, Manager of the HIV/STD Program, who walked in Public Health’s first entry years ago. “And now, though the LGBT community isn’t without its struggles, our efforts to improve health and policies have pushed us forward, and Pride has become more festive.”