NORWALK, Conn. – Hula Hoops, light-up key chains and serious information about a potential health problem were among the offerings Saturday in Norwalk at the Pride in the Park event sponsored by the Triangle Community Center.
As a musician performed on stage and children enjoyed the carefree joy of twirling Hula Hoops, Gloria Searson of the Mid-Fairfield Aids Project talked about the higher-than-expected probability that Baby Boomers have Hepatitis C.
“Me and you may have never shot drugs in our life and have Hep C,” she said. “Because 30 years ago we loved a guy who hung out at Soul Jazz Café, you know, and we hooked up with him every now and then. We knew he was in the Vietnam War, we kind of didn’t know he did drugs.”
Some 200 people wandered the lawn next to the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion at 2 p.m., two hours after the Pride in the Park, a picnic-like event for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and trangendered people, began. GE employees sat in one booth giving away trinkets – pens with windmill-shaped ends in honor of GE wind turbines, and key chains with lights in them in honor of GE light bulbs.
GE is the biggest employer in Fairfield County, one man said. “We certainly want to make sure everybody knows we want to be the company of choice,” he said, advertising an openness to new employees.
Dogs on leashes struggled to touch noses. Children played. Couples circled the grounds. Food vendors had lines.
Searson said her crew had done 20 free Hep C tests at that point. This is a new Centers for Disease Control initiative, she said – everyone born between 1945 and 1965 should be screened for Hep C, she said.
Staid middle-aged and older people don’t remember the wilder things they were doing 30 years ago, she said, citing “free love, drug use and the jazz epidemic.” One in four South Bronx African-American male Baby Boomers have Hep C, she said. The liver disease is caused by a virus spread by contact with contaminated blood, meaning anyone who used an unclean needle might have it, she said. Unlike HIV, this virus lives outside the body
Searson is the founder of the Coalition On Powerful HEALTH Empowerment (C.O.P.E.) in New York City. The free Hep C testing in the park was the first collaboration between COPE and the Mid Fairfield Aids Project, she said.
“You are looking at the first piece of this partnership,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I live in Connecticut and yet my home state has not recognized the needs of that both HIV positive and Hep C positive people. They have not done a sufficient job screening for hepatitis. They’ve done a good job screening for HIV because they go toward the risk factors. … Now it’s the Hepatitis C community that is being left out.”
One in 30 Baby Boomers have Hep C, she said. New rule: Every primary care physician has to ask a Baby Boomer if they want a Hep C test, she said. One pill a day for 12 days will cure you of Hep C, she said.
Of course, younger people can get Hep C, but this crowd wasn’t “tatted up,” therefore she wasn’t going after them, she said.
“Not because they have hepatitis, because they’ve got a professional job. But I want them to know,” she said. “These are things that happen in those (tattoo) parlors. ‘Johnny’ is more likely not to change the ink on you the more often you come. It’s capitalism, right?”