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Gay City Quinceañera celebrates 15 years of community
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Gay City Quinceañera celebrates 15 years of community

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

Gay City's Quinceañera
April 28
Gay City (511 E Pike St.)


On April 28, Gay City Health Project, Seattle's multicultural Gay men's health organization and the leading provider of HIV and STD testing in King County, will be celebrating their 'Quinceañera' for 15 years of building a healthy Gay and Bisexual men's community here in Seattle.

SGN asked Gay City Health Project Executive Director Fred Swanson what it meant to have an organization like theirs here in Seattle for so long.

"I think it means a lot of things," Swanson told SGN. "It means that in Seattle we've had, for 15 years, a constant force and a constant energy for creating a healthy space for Gay and Bisexual men. & I think it speaks to the commitment of the community, the people who support this organization, and to the health of the community."

"That the organization is still around, I think, is really remarkable," said Swanson. "Certainly Seattle has seen its share of organizations that have gone by the wayside. & Even that we're here is an accomplishment and shows that we are still relevant and meaningful."

The story of Gay City begins in 1993, two years before the organization was founded.

A group of local HIV/AIDS activists and educators formed the MSM (men who have sex with men) HIV/AIDS Prevention Task Force. According to Gay City's website, the group found that men who have sex with men accounted for 90% of all new infections, but only 20% of locally distributed HIV prevention funds were targeted toward meeting their needs. Armed with this unfortunate knowledge, MSM made independent recommendations to the King County HIV/AIDS Planning Council.

MSM held their initial public forum, which drew over 300 men. Attendance at these forums quickly grew stronger, and voices likewise grew louder until public health officials could no longer ignore the need for new HIV prevention strategies for Gay and Bisexual men. Gay City Health Project was founded in April 1995, with a grant from Public Health - Seattle & King County.

Dedicated to bold, innovative programming, Gay City was conceived to bring people together to work toward creative solutions to common problems.

Gay City began to develop never-before-seen programs such as "Queercore," a program for men under 30 that addressed "the unique concerns of being the second generation of Gay and Bi guys affected by the AIDS epidemic," and "The Over-40s Project" (in collaboration with Seattle AIDS Support Group) which provided "meaningful community discussions on sexuality, masculinity, survivor guilt, relationships, and redefining what it means to grow older in a community often focused on youth."

In 2000, Gay City began to change its focus from solely HIV/AIDS-related issues to nearly all aspects of Gay men's health, with programs like "Party Smart," a media campaign that was designed to address substance use in the community in a non-judgmental way; "Domestic Disturbance," a community forum about male-on-male domestic violence; "Suck My Gender," a community forum focused on the complexities of gender and sexuality; and "Out to Quit," a Queer smoking cessation program of which I am a veteran myself.

Hundreds of organizations throughout the world have developed programs based on the Gay City model, making Gay City part of a larger movement of holistic approaches to Gay and Bisexual men's health.

"We added the HIV testing in 2004. That's something we worked on for a couple years before we were able to do it," said Swanson. "That, I think, is a huge accomplishment for the organization and a huge asset to the community."

From resources guides to 24-hour phone lines, from classes to discussion groups, from HIV/STD testing to nicotine patches - all at no cost - Gay City Health Project is and always has been innovative, overwhelmingly positive, and unequivocally giving.

Be sure to come out to Gay City on Wednesday, April 28 from 5-8 p.m. to celebrate "Gay City's Quinceañera," an open house anniversary celebration with refreshments and food from Galerias Gourmet Mexican Restaurant. You'll be able to meet volunteers and staff and learn more about Gay City's programs.

Additionally, if you have a story you'd like to share about how Gay City's programs have affected your life, I'd love to hear them in order to incorporate them into another article I'll be writing next week. E-mail submissions to jamesatsgn@yahoo.com. Please include your name exactly as you'd like to see it in print.

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