In the late fall of 1985, Nurse Safe Sexx, created by Bag Lady Kenn King, appeared for the first time at a benefit at Greg’s Our Place for AIDS awareness and fundraising. The character spread awareness about safe sex practices within the gay community. An instant hit, King revolutionized the way AIDS education was promoted throughout the city, inspired by San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and its positive and humorous messaging.

The poster includes two images featuring a drag queen dressed as a nurse.
Nurse Safe Sexx Poster, 1985 Credit: Bohr/Indy Pride/Gonzalez Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

King repurposed much of the literature he passed out from larger and more established gay health organizations elsewhere. He combined literature received from these larger organizations and augmented it with his midwestern perspective. Along with this literature, he also wrote articles, “The Nurses’ Report,” for the local gay magazines, including The Mirror, The Word, and Metra to share information about safe sex.

Nurse Safe Sexx appeared at local bars and at Bag Ladies events. King used caricature to draw attention to the messaging. He not only made live appearances but was featured in many of the local and state gay newspapers and magazines. The Nurse Safe Sexx comic strip that resulted was created in collaboration with Richmond, Indiana, cartoonist Rick Moore, who went by pen name RIK. Moore took King’s detailed ideas and brought them to life as comics featuring members of the Bag Ladies. Blossom, Tonya Campisi, Hoosier Mom, and a few of Moore’s own original characters, Kitte Littaire, who discounted the Nurse’s recommendations, and John Q. Public.

A cartoon featuring a drag queen in a nurses uniform and a man and woman kissing. It says "Safe sex ... Frankly, scarlett, sometimes you've got to give a damn!"
Nurse Safe Sexx ad using the iconic Rhett Butler remark to Scarlett O’Hara, ca. 1985-1995 Credit: Bohr/Indy Pride/Gonzalez Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

The comics were never copyrighted because both King and Moore disliked the idea of copywriting AIDS literature. Reportedly, the comics were seen in newspapers as far as New York, New Jersey, and California. The hesitant reception of Nurse Safe Sexx by some within the gay community led Kenn King to create another character, the Hoosier Mom, who promoted the idea that gay men should practice safe sex for the sake of their mothers.

Far more people posed with and responded to Hoosier Mom because of the idea that these men were still AIDS-free. An older gray-haired lady was far more approachable than the ostentatious Nurse Safe Sexx. The impact that Nurse Safe Sexx had on many in the Indianapolis gay community can never be measured, although many people reported the character’s effect on their practices. .King retired Nurse Safe Sexx in the 1990s.

Revised March 2021

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