Seattle’s University of Washington Medical School was known for its research into sexually transmitted diseases. Some Public Health Department doctors were also associated with the medical school. Dr. Hunter Handsfield, head of Public Health’s STD program, in 1982 was studying a lymph-gland disorder that might relate to AIDS. Already a nationally recognized leader in STD research and prevention, Handsfield helped forge policies and made recommendations to the federal Centers for Disease Control for a national response to the emerging epidemic.
Collaboration in Seattle
Dr. Robert Wood, AIDS Prevention Project Director (1985-2010) talks about how Public Health was able to work with the University and the community in responding to AIDS. (Oral history interview, August 2015.)
A History of STD outreach
The Public Health Department had a long history (see right) of treating sexually transmitted diseases. STD prevention and treatment programs included outreach to men who had sexual contact with other men.Still, some saw Public Health’s venereal disease clinic services as punitive in tone and insensitive to privacy needs. In 1982, to better understand and respond to the needs of the gay community, Public Health, with input from volunteers from the Seattle Gay Clinic, formed the STD Advisory Committee, focused on STD’s in gay men. Its membership drew from the Public Health Department, Seattle Gay Clinic, and the Dorian Group, a gay rights organization.
Local support for gay rights and gay rights activismIn some areas of the United States, hostility towards gay people slowed or undercut efforts to address the AIDS epidemic. This was less the case in Seattle. The city had passed civil rights ordinances that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in the 1970s. In 1978, citizens’ Initiative 13 sought to repeal these ordinances as they applied to gay people, but broad coalitions formed, and the measure was defeated at the polls by a margin of two to one. This experience of community members working together for common ends greatly helped Seattle and King County respond to the AIDS epidemic four years later.
From “Social Disease”
to “Love Needs Care”
From before 1890 until 1947, Seattle’s Department of Health and Sanitation was responsible for the control of sexually transmitted diseases in the region. Control techniques included contact tracing, anti-prostitution campaigns, hospitalization, and quarantine (in or out of jails).
World War II introduced new populations and social dynamics into the Seattle area, as well as the use of penicillin as a treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. This led to an enhanced postwar campaign by the newly unified (1947) Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. Intervention was based on education, detection, and treatment.
Working out differences:
The Seattle Gay Clinic and Public Health
Tim Burak, AIDS Prevention Project Coordinator (1985-1995) and Seattle Gay Clinic volunteer, talks about the Clinic’s relationship with the Public Health Department before AIDS. (Oral history interview, July, 2015.)
Public Health: a history of reaching out to those in need
“I have to really tip my hat to public health nurses, who are some of the most underappreciated people in the world, who welcomed me into their domain as a gay man, [and] who taught me a whole lot about how to provide quality care to people who were not used to getting quality care.”
Tim Burak on working in Public Health’s dental program in the 1970s and 1980s. The program served populations such as refugees, jail inmates, and low-income senior citizens. Experience reaching out to under-served communities also informed Public Health’s response to AIDS. (Oral history interview, July 2015.)
More on what made Seattle-King County’s experience different
Patricia McInturff, AIDS Prevention Project Division Manager. (Oral history interview, September 2015.)
Gary Goldbaum, AIDS Prevention Project Medical Director (1993). (Oral history interview, August 2015.)