Inaugural Pride in the Plaza Launches New County Sexual Health Campaign

County officials opened the inaugural Pride in the Plaza Sunday to mark Pride Month, National HIV Testing Day and the official launch of Do It For You, the county’s first comprehensive sexual health campaign.

The event, held in Silver Spring Veterans Plaza, brought together various nonprofits, music and other attractions for a health and wellness community resource fair that emphasized the effects of HIV on the LGBTQ+, Black and Latin communities in the county. In addition, the event offered free HIV testing to attendees.

“Pride in the Plaza represents the county’s ongoing commitment to LGBTQ+ health and wellness,” Melvin Cauthen, administrator for the HIV/STI program, said in announcing the event. “This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first cases of HIV in the United States. LGBTQ+ health encompasses so much more than HIV, but this epidemic persisting over four decades with increasing disparities shows us the danger of a ‘one size fits all’ public health approach.”

He added during his opening remarks Sunday that the county hoped to make Pride in the Plaza an annual event.

In addition to joining other officials to raise the Pride flag over the plaza, County Executive Marc Elrich (D) spoke of the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when fears gripped the country as this new disease rapidly spread and resulted in the deaths of so many individuals.

“One in seven Montgomery County residents living with HIV do not know their HIV status,” he said, urging everyone to get tested.

He also pointed out that any county resident who tests positive for HIV can get treatment for either free or a low cost, regardless of insurance or immigration status.

The Montgomery County HIV/STI Testing, Treatment & Prevention program is located at the Dennis Avenue Health Center, 2000 Dennis Ave., Silver Spring.

County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large), also spoke at the event, stressing the need to end the epidemic for everyone.

He also spoke of the various ways that improving society in general—access to adequate housing, a more caring and empathetic health care system particularly for the LGBTQ+ community, eliminating racism—would all contribute to preventing HIV and better overall public health.

He also told the crowd he would get tested during the event.

In addition, Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart (D) was there and tweeted later that she, too, got tested.

In addition to the new website (linked to above), the Do it For You sexual health campaign features new social media platforms, bus, Metro, and digital ads and includes multicultural, inclusive LGBTQ+ messaging on HIV testing, treatment, and prevention.

Residents can follow the campaign on social media @DoItForYouMC.

Dr. Travis Gayles, county health officer (left), District 20 Del. Lorig Charkoudian, Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart (backs to camera) and County Executive Marl Elrich raise the Pride flag to open Pride in the Plaza (not shown, Councilmember Will Jawando). Photo by Mike Diegel

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