Friday, February 13, 2009

Chutzpah for Public Health

Heather Knight contributed the following item to the "City Insider" column of this morning's San Francisco Chronicle:

Move over Lou Seal, there's another San Francisco mascot that will appear at parades, street fairs and other public events around the city over the coming year. It's the 6-foot-tall Healthy Penis.

Actually, there are three of them, and they'll make their reappearance at noon today at the corner of Castro and Market. The characters will appear with a fourth, much-less-attractive buddy, Phil the Syphilis Sore.

Controversial when they debuted in 2002, the characters became popular and appeared around the city until 2006 to encourage gay and bisexual men to get tested for syphilis.

Syphilis cases dropped over those years, and the penis costumes were borrowed by other cities to promote testing for sexually transmitted diseases. But now the Department of Public Health is bringing them back because syphilis cases are again on the rise, up 50 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Inside the costumes are public health staffers. "There is no lack of people who want to volunteer to wear a penis costume in public," said department spokeswoman Eileen Shields.

She said they'll be everywhere in the coming months. We think they should run in Bay to Breakers to test the new no-nudity rules. "I would give anything to see the police write-up on that," Shields said.

There are probably several layers of chutzpah surrounding this story. Even Knight needed a bit of chutzpah to serve up this story along with the morning eggs (particularly for those who take their eggs with sausage)! However, the Chutzpah of the Week award should go to the Department of Public Health, as a whole, for recognizing when they had a good way to get out the word on a serious disease and going back to that good way when there was clearly a need to do so. The Department may even be up for a second award if they make good on Shields' threat to challenge the "creeping puritanism" of the Bay to Breakers race!

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