There's a story in today's Washington Post about the DC health department getting ready to distribute the female condom as an HIV prevention tool, and as a gay man who has been active in promoting the device since 1996 to other gays, I'm always pleased when it is adopted by a local public health department or nonprofit service provider for stopping HIV.
The Post article, which incorrectly claims DC will be the first in the nation to make the female condoms available for free. Here are some facts from more than a decade ago, that appeared in the Bay Area Reporter in February 1996, about the four other cities that were distributing female condoms, and to gays no less, way before DC:
Moreover, according to a volunteer who distributes Reality condoms in Philadelphia as part of the Gay and Latino AIDS Education's Midnight Cowboy program, the option of advance insertion has many advantages. Hassan J. Gibbs told the Philadelphia Inquirer in January that sex workers "really like female condoms because they can be inserted prior to the sexual act. [...]
Chicago and Seattle have also initiated Reality condom distribution programs. Now the California state AIDS Office has begin providing Reality condoms to clients at some health clinic, including some in San Francisco. [...]
San Francisco AIDS activist Michael Petrelis became the first male to ask for the internal condoms at the city health clinics, which lead to a brief inquiry by the city's Human Rights Commission into whether the refusal to his request constituted sex discrimination, before the policy was changed.
As important, the Post fails to mention how the female condoms about to flood DC can also be used by gay men during anal sex. The denial of how gay men in the mid 1990s were aware of the device, working with public health officials to get them into the butts of at-risk gays, is part of the larger context I constantly see in contemporary AIDS reporting. The Post is wrong to omit the gay history and use by gays associated with the female condom.
The paper mentions locations where the female condom will be available, and gay venues are missing:
The District will become the first city in the United States to distribute female condoms free, part of a project that will make 500,000 of them available in beauty salons, convenience stores and high schools in parts of the city with high HIV rates.
The problem here may not totally rest with the Post. DC's health department has no information at all about the distribution plan on their HIV/AIDS page, forget about trying to see if the department makes any effort to reach the local gays at-risk of contracting HIV.
I contacted veteran gay male health advocate and HIV prevention director Jim Pickett, at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, about all this because he's also long pushed the device for gays into buttsex. He shared some great news with me:
Stay tuned - Monday the Chicago Female Condom Campaign - ringonit.org - launches a huge new initiative around female condom awareness and access for women AND men and completely includes the gays.
Sounds to me like Chicago is taking another step in its two-decade campaign of reaching out to gays and straights, who could benefit from the female condom. The Washington Post and the DC health department might spend less time touting their incorrect status as the first city to hand out the devices, and more effort explaining how outreach to gays will happen.