The AIDS Walk - Then and Now

The AIDS Walk - Then and Now

Credit: John R. Trautman

The AIDS Walk - Then and Now

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by John R. Trautman, guest blogger

KING5.com

Posted on September 19, 2012 at 11:37 AM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 19 at 11:59 AM

I hope you all know you work with a hero, Jean Enersen.

Back in the 80s AIDS scared the living daylights out of people.  I remember the bar scene.  Back then just about the only gay bar was the Elite at the north end of Broadway - people got so scared they would pick out who had it and who didn't without really knowing even in my own community!

I lost two friends in quick succession - Tony Trantafil who was a love of my life with a smile that could melt the world - we thought he had strep throat until a then giant Dr. Hunter Hansfield at Harborview gave us the bad news.  And then Michael Rutherford who suddenly at dinner could only speak gibberish for the next few awful months due to a strange fungal infection in his brain due to his low immunity because of AIDS he didn't realize he had until then.  Now thank god wonder drugs have put most of that horror behind us and the younger gay crowd for the most part don't ever see much less read about it anywhere - and thank goodness for that too. Many of us by the hundreds left  or lessened our presence at the bars - me forever which probably saved my life in retrospect because I played as hard as any of the other guys until then -  and took up volunteer work so desperately needed. The organization that preceded NW AIDS was actually started to help hepatitis b gay patients who no one else would take to get groceries or to the doctors office. That disease also was scary and an epidemic of it quickly and shortly preceded AIDS for some strange reason. Gay men here in Seattle reportedly took out second mortgages on their homes because the city said they had to have insurance in order for that organization to take those people in those cars. Some of those men still live in Seattle today and I am proud to have worked with and known throughout the years. That organization folded into or was the origins of NW AIDS Foundation now Lifelong Aids Alliance. Not sure exactly how that worked.
 
But we needed allies. 

Jean Enersen took the risk to show up proudly and keynote speak at the NW AIDS walk back then when it was unpopular and NOT the thing anyone in their right mind would do. My running group, Seattle Frontrunners, would start off the walk running and sometimes running with tall poles with streamers the first few years. We still meet Saturday mornings at Greenlake although many don't know our history, only the older guys like myself and I stay for the most in the background. I know now why my Dad never talked much about WWII - awful memories are things that aren't fun sharing or hearing. 

So hats off to Jean.  People forget just how important people like her were to help us gain footing and stand tall against the wave of fear and hatred that came with AIDS.  It was a backlash in Seattle because until then for gay people things had started to get better.  I was lucky enough to be working then at what was Pacific Northwest Bell.  We started the first gay and lesbian employee organization in the state and championed the start of many others - over 60 in Seattle and Portland.  Coincidentally, one of the men who started the nonprofit that later led to NW AIDS also was a founder of that group. I only know that BEAGLEs at Boeing and GLEAM at Microsoft still remain and they probably don't even know the connection and it's not important. 

Andy Smith was then CEO of Pacific Northwest Bell - he stepped out nationwide talking to other CEOs about not only gay men but also AIDS when one of our employees who everyone knew in Seattle, Jimmy, died suddenly from AIDS -  he became mentally unstable suddenly and we rushed him to Harborview where we had to commit him much to our horror - think about doing that one day to one of your friends having to make split second decisions in a world where there was no roadmap for what was happening -  we soon called his family to come from Iowa because he was dying from AIDS.  So there was another champion, Andy Smith.  Hats off to Jean and although much of this is forgotten that's a good thing for the younger people today. To grow up without seeing thousands of your community die, many with visible lesions, etc., more than in any war. To be able to get apartments and jobs and have health services without being discriminated against. Think about calling 911 and they hesitate to come. One of the larger area hospitals mailed out a letter to those of us they suspected of being gay saying that their doctors and nurses had the right to chose whether or not to continue to see us do the risk involved!  Well we left in droves saying shove it in many different variations (sorry to be so blunt) and found medical care elsewhere..
 
If younger people even see the AIDS quilt it is novelty to some of them although many have relatives there too- to my friends my age - we go look and find the panels of our friends having seen it grow section by section in huge waves. Microsoft in their genorsity just digitalized the entire quilt stored in Atlanta near the CDC making the images of the panels forever accessible to family and friends.
 
I hope your news station is able to come next week to the AIDS walk and celebrate with the rest of us. I am not anybody especially notable in the community nor do I represent Lifelong Aids Alliance nor on the board at Seattle Frontrunners. In Seattle alone there are thousands of us with similar stories that weave our history.  But I do know a part of history that no one else remembers or few people remember and history is important. And I am lucky being HIV negative. I count my blessings. The attached file is  a picture of some of Seattle Frontrunners holding an early 80s NW Aids walk banner, I believe from the year Jean keynoted.  The second file is from Run with Pride, I believe the next year in June.  Back then we weren't a large group but it was full of movers and shakers in our community. I'm far right dark hair dark beard and as my friends point out way too short shorts which I am trying to hide (thank you very much friends ;) )
 
Respectfully, 
 
John R. Trautman
 

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