Responding to AIDS - Home |
About this Exhibit - Introduction |
AIDS Emerges |
Poised to Respond |
New Programs: Working Together |
Responding to Fear |
The AIDS Prevention Project |
A Leader in Research, Education, and Housing |
| Expanding Outreach | Needle Exchanges | The AIDS Omnibus Act: New Mandates | Safer Sex: The New Normal? | The Legacy | Gallery | Oral Histories | References and Resources
Safer Sex: The New Normal?
A Second Wave of Infections
Ten years into the AIDS epidemic, there was still no cure for AIDS. But new drugs showed promise against AIDS-related diseases. Some, thinking that “AIDS could be treated,” began to abandon safer-sex practices. The HIV infection rate began to climb.
The Public Health Department responded with new outreach efforts, stressing the need to continue practicing safer sex and encouraging condom use. More edgy and explicit materials were designed to catch people’s attention and were narrowly distributed to predominantly gay venues.
Dr. Bob on the Resurgence of HIV Infections
Letter to Dr. Bob from a reader reflecting on the reasons for his own risky behavior. The letter linked to here includes notes from Frank Chaffee and Dr. Robert Wood on a potential response from “Dr. Bob.” (Series 1861.1.5 – Subject files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.). Click on the thumbnail to read the whole letter.
The Condom Campaign
In 1994 and 1995, Public Health promoted condom use to the general public through a series of signs appearing on Metro buses.
(Series 1825.6.20 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.)
Public Standards and the Smut Committee
Standards around what content was considered appropriate for the public (what was “decent”) changed over time. In the 1980s, grant-funded outreach and educational materials had to be vetted by the CDC for approval or censorship. Later, the APP was allowed to form its own review committee, informally referred to as the Smut Committee. Members included health educators, medical professionals, and the media. The APP gradually became freer to create attention-getting content that resonated with at-risk groups. Public Health sought to strike a balance: creating materials that were engaging and accurate, while not crossing over into what might be seen as indecency. The most explicit materials were not designed for the general public and were placed in targeted venues such as gay bars or bath houses.
Tim Burak tells how the committee was formed and discusses how standards have changed. (Oral history interview, July 2015.)
The Power of the Word
An award-winning poster designed by the ad firm Cole & Weber (at no charge to Public Health) was intended for a gay male audience, but it drew so much attention that Playboy Magazine asked permission to feature it in its Forum section. Public Health expressed concern that publication outside the intended arena (Seattle’s Gay Pride Parade) might jeopardize the program and would serve no legitimate public health purpose. Playboy editors chose to feature the poster regardless, with a jab at local politics.
One prominent campaign from this period was Stella Seattle, a serial comic about a health educator and his friends, illustrated by Dominic Cappello using the pen name Paul Hornby. The single-panel comics were printed on postcards placed in gay bars and bathhouses and were published in gay newspapers. Stella Seattle also had a 1995 calendar, mugs, T-shirts, magnets, posters, and, at the end of its run, a comic book with all of the episodes.
A Stella Seattle telephone hotline helped the APP evaluate the effectiveness of Stella Seattle’s messages. Readers were invited to respond to a question posed by each comic, like “Do you talk about HIV before having sex?” The comic’s production staff would use this feedback to help guide future Stella Seattle topics and story lines.
Well-received by the gay community and considered effective as an HIV prevention and education campaign, Stella Seattle also faced critics. When it first appeared in 1994, the Stella Seattle hotline was jammed with hostile calls.
Stella Seattle took many forms. A total of 29,900 postcards like this one were distributed at gay bars and bathhouses over the course of Stella Seattle's initial 15-episode run. (Series 1825.6.10 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.)
Public Health collaborated with the Asian Pacific AIDS Council, Entre Hermanos, the Northwest AIDS Foundation, POCAAN, and YouthCare for the OutLOUD campaign (1994-1996). Outreach materials in the form of tabloids, ‘zines, and trading cards told true stories to provide real-life role models for safer-sex practices.
Tabloid-style OutLOUD project update. (Series 1825.6.14 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.)
Responding to AIDS
Content warning: The archival records featured in this exhibit discuss sexual behavior and illegal drug use. Please direct questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright King County Archives, Seattle Washington, June 2016.
Please note: This exhibit features historical materials relating to HIV/AIDS. For current health information, please visit Public Health, Seattle & King County - HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention and Education.
Oral histories produced with support from a 2015 4Culture Heritage Projects Grant.