By Eli MacKinnon
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The best things in life are free, including truckloads of condoms.
Brooklyn’s 16th annual Pride Celebration brightened up Park Slope on Saturday, and thanks to Condom Nation’s latex-laden, 18-wheel mack truck, revelers were well prepared to express their love proudly and safely.
Marco Benjamin, a regional mobilization leader for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF’s) countrywide campaign to promote condom use, said he and his partners in prevention handed out just about 40,000 condoms on Saturday.
Along with the material support, Condom Nation also added the roar of its 70-foot-long “big rig” to the chorus of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual voices that rose up on Fifth Avenue during Saturday night’s Pride Parade.
According to Benjamin, one of the most heartening aspects of Saturday’s celebration was the diversity of participants who showed up to make merry, voice their solidarity with our borough’s LGBT community and maybe pocket a few rubbers.
“There were families, it wasn’t just gay people — so many people who were happy that we were there and bringing awareness about safe sex,” he said. “They were just taking the condoms by the handful, all ages, old to young. A lot of older folks were saying, ‘I’m going to give this to my grandchildren, I’m going to give this to my kids.’”
Condom Nation is in the third act of a six-month, 40-city, 25-state free condom tour, which started in Venice Beach, Calif., in February. By the trip’s conclusion, set to coincide with July’s XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., the organization hopes to have offloaded some 10 million condoms.
One of the issues the AHF hopes to address with its Condom Nation campaign is what it sees as the absurdly high markup on pieces of latex that can save lives and millions of dollars in health care costs.
“It only costs like 4 cents to make a condom but yet they sell them for 18 dollars a box in the stores,” said Benjamin. “It could be part of the reason for why the virus is being transmitted, because people really don’t have the money to buy these condoms.”
Aside from an opportunity to promote safe sex and affordably priced condoms, Saturday’s celebration was also a “coming out party for AHF in Brooklyn,” said Michael Camacho, regional director for the AHF.
The Los Angeles-based organization will open its first Brooklyn base of operations in early July at 475 Atlantic Ave., just a couple blocks from the Atlantic Terminal.
Initially, the site will house an Out of the Closet Thrift Store, which will spend 96 cents of every dollar it makes on HIV care and research through the AHF, as well as provide free HIV testing.
The thrift store will be joined sometime in the following months by a community pharmacy, and Camacho says that by the end of the year, AHF will have opened an HIV-specific health clinic at the same location.
For those who missed out on (or ran out of) their share of Saturday’s deluge of rubbers, Condom Nation will be back in the city on Sunday, June 17, for Manhattan's Folsom Street East fair on West 28th Street between 10th and 11th avenues. Though the 18-wheeler won't make an appearance at the event, there will still be plenty of condoms to go around and one of the organization's “sprinter vans” will be on hand to offer free HIV testing.