Community Health at the Forefront of Oakland Pride
Oakland, California has a past reputation for gang-banging, violence and urban decay. It is sometimes seen as the Bay Area’s bastard stepchild when compared to LGBT mecca San Francisco, sedate Silicon Valley to the south and the elite northern wine country neighborhoods. Yet Oakland boasts a high concentration of LGBT families with children, and plans to reflect this multigenerational and diverse population during their September 2nd Pride Festival, "It’s A Celebration," featuring 60 artists including headlining dance diva CeCe Peniston, plus a wealth of community health care providers.
"When I ask Baby Boomers if they remember growing up gay during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, their eye contact portrays to me the pain and fear we hope to alleviate in LGBTQ children today," said Rebecca Chekouras, San Francisco’s co-chair of the Ambassadors, an all-volunteer corps that supports the Trevor Project in most major American cities.
The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading provider of suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs and resources for LGBT youth populations, will be one of the featured booths at the Oakland Pride Community Health Pavilion, on hand to provide information and resources on LGBT family health and wellness issues. The timing is serendipitous, as September is Suicide Prevention Month, with September 9-15 being Suicide Prevention Week, capped off by World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.
Their booth will offer a Hollywood red carpet "step and repeat" opportunity for visitors to be photographed to show support for kids in crisis around the country. Since suicide attempts are three to four times higher among LGBT youth, Trevor’s Ambassadors will also promote a number of outreach initiatives, including their lifeline number, 866-488-7386, plus their "Talk to Me" and "Need to Talk Live" programs for young people who need to speak with somebody. The LGBTQ Employee Resource Group of the Safeway Corporation, headquartered in Pleasanton, is co-sponsoring this venture.
Due to the family-oriented nature of the city and of Oakland Pride, as well as their work with a large number of East Bay clients, lesbian-focused Pacific Reproductive Services will also host a booth for the second year. Founded in 1984 by lesbian activist and healthcare provider Sherron Mills, PRS pioneered a national sperm bank for lesbian couples and single mothers, and is the fourth-largest bank today. They also provide donors who are willing to meet their offspring when the child reaches age 18, creating the largest number of "willing to be known" donors in the nation.
The AIDS Project of the East Bay has been serving a diverse population of HIV positive gay men in Northern California outside of San Francisco since 1983, with medical care and medicine, housing, financial and mental health support. For their third outing at Oakland Pride, they’ll provide free rapid HIV testing at a mobile testing van for the first time, along with counseling and referral services. APEB will give away prize-wheel swag too, and, for a small donation, customized Mardi Gras condom beads with humorous labels like "top" or "bottom."
"The condom beads are a great way to initiate safer sex conversations," APEB Prevention Coordinator David Williams-Beck told EDGE.
Get Screened Oakland, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Volunteers of America and the HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County are hosting the Sex in the City Lounge, a place to hang out while waiting for 20-minute HIV test results.
"The Lounge is a place to take the mystery and stigma out of sex, to make it routine. Otherwise, it’s so difficult to get people tested," said GSO’s Program Manager Nicole Little. "We’re pleased to provide this community hub, an open area and safe space for HIV/AIDS dialogue."
Sex in the City Lounge visitors can drink mocktails, talk with counselors, get condoms, play cards or dominoes, get a blood pressure screening by Walgreens, or interact with MC Brauny B. Fresh, aka HEPPAC Program Coordinator Braunz Courtney.
"We want to normalize HIV awareness and screening, and encourage our community to make safer choices within our diverse spectrum," said Courtney. In addition to providing HIV Rapid Testing and outreach, HEPPAC also offers an Oakland-wide syringe exchange plus a clinic and drop-in center on the east side.
By reaching out to all ages of participants, from children to elders and all the combinations of modern families expected to attend, these healthcare provider booths offer "a shield, a protection that was missing for most of us as children," the retired Chekouras added.
"For anybody who has a memory as a scared, alienated, LGBTQ kid, these resources are a way to take care of ourselves as children, by helping our community today," said Chekouras.
Oakland Pride will be held over Labor Day weekend on Sunday, September 2, from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., at 20th Street and Broadway, near the 19th Street BART station. For complete details on healthcare representatives and the Oakland Pride Festival, visit www.oaklandpride.org