Lead Story Local News West Edition

Longtime AIDS activist leads annual L.A. Pride Parade

WEST HOLLYWOOD — Jewel Thais-Williams’ selection as grand marshal of the 46th annual LA Pride Parade, which took place June 12, illustrates the shift in the position away from celebrities to activists in the LGBT community.

Marquita Thomas, a board member of Christopher Street West, which organizes the parade, called Thais-Williams “a true symbol of leadership within our community.”

“Her tireless efforts have positively affected the lives of countless LGBTQ minorities,” Thomas said. “Jewel’s dedication to bettering our community is truly inspiring to myself as well as a whole new generation of activists, community leaders and community supporters.”

Thais-Williams co-founded the Minority AIDS Project, which aims to help blacks and Hispanics affected by the disease. She served as a board member of the AIDS Project Los Angeles, which provides HIV/AIDS care and prevention programs and seeks to improve HIV-related public policy, and co-founded Rue’s House, described as the first housing facility for women with AIDS.

In 2001, Thais-Williams founded the Village Health Foundation to provide preventative health care and education to the black community for AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure and other diseases with high incidence among blacks in an effort to reduce the risk of disease and offer tools for learning to live with an illness.

Thais-Williams owned the Catch One disco in the Mid-City area, which featured performances by such prominent entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Weather Girls and Rick James and was a community center for Los Angeles’ black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community. It closed last year.

“I am humbled by my selection as the grand marshal for this year’s LA Pride Parade,” Thais-Williams said.

“Many years ago we collaborated with another club and a florist company to become the first representing people of color in the parade. What an honor it is for me to lead the parade, pause for a minute to acknowledge the unity we have come to cherish in the community.”

In connection with Thais-Williams’ selection as grand marshal and her history of work, the programming for the three-day LA Pride Music Festival & Parade sought to shed light on the HIV/AIDS crisis within LGBTQ communities of color, focusing on education, care and prevention, Thomas said.

“With the rapidly growing number of LGBTQ minorities directly affected by HIV and AIDS, it is our duty to bring greater overall awareness to this epidemic in the hopes we can save lives,” said Christopher Street West board member Craig Bowers.

Free AIDS testing was available throughout the festival. Festival organizers gave free admission to the June 10 Vogue Ball for anyone who was tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“While overall rates of HIV have declined in the United States, rates are increasing in African-American and Hispanic men who have sex with men,” Thomas said. “At current rates, half of black and one-quarter of Latino gay or bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes.”