LA County’s LGBT Center Is No Longer Offering Free STI Testing To The Community
Hopefully we all have been tested for HIV or sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) at some point in our lives and if we are sexually active, we have a plan to do so regularly. If you haven’t been tested yet and you are sexually active, we hope you eventually will since it needs to be a common practice for your health and well-being.
For those of us who have been tested, let’s flashback to your first time. Mine? I can recall sitting in The Broadway Youth Center (BYC) in Chicago, Illinois. The BYC was an unlikely source of a sense of community as it stood in its small, crummy building. I had heard about it from the only other openly gay person in my high school. At fifteen-years-old, I decided to go there and get tested for anything and everything they could. Chewing on my finger nails and sitting in a room with other people just as nervous me, made me feel somehow accepted, like we were in it together. The tension was palpable, but we all knew that eventually we’d be taken care of. And thankfully, it was within that teenager’s budget – FREE.
While the BYC was an establishment targeted towards the gay community, anyone under the age of twenty-two could use their services – FOR FREE. I was counseled by amazing and thoughtful workers who never once treated me like a number in an assembly line. They made sure me, someone barely out of their tweens who was sexually active, was getting the full emotional support I needed, which helped me go to sleep at night knowing I had a lifeline in the community when I needed it. They never once told my family or shamed or judged me. I felt so comfortable visiting this center that I would bring friends with me and we’d get tested together. These friends were my high school classmates who were sexually active and terrified to tell their parents when a surge of chlamydia was going around our school. The center was doing more than giving out free mental health and STI treatment or testing – they were saving lives and ending fears. The BYC would later close down in favor of Chicago’s Center on Halsted – utilizing the exact same formula, but for all ages. It was a godsend to those who didn’t and don’t have health insurance but need to maintain their regular testing checkups as all sexually active people should.
Flash forward many years to me now living in Los Angeles. Being in a new city, I immediately had to seek out the nearest testing site and I desired the same type of place as the BYC and the Center on Halsted. Luckily, I found my new testing center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center. For the years I have lived here in LA, I’ve found solace in the warm welcome from the counselors who test me every three months and I even know a few of them by name. They’re friendly, happy, and the center is a space where I don’t have to feel awkward or weird by talking about my gay sex life with someone, compared to how it may feel talking about LGBT things with a standard practitioner. The workers are trained to fit the needs of the LGBT community and despite their title, welcome ALL that come through their doors. As a grown adult working more or less as an artist, sometimes insurance is scarce and tricky. The Center for years has only accepted donations from its visitors as services have been free … until now.
According to The Los Angeles LGBT Center, after severe funding cuts by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH), almost all free STD & HIV testing will end at the Center starting Tuesday, January 28, 2020. Its other health services, including HIV care and treatment, PrEP and PEP services, and STD and HIV testing covered by insurance remain unchanged. A statement from the Center reads:
“At a time when all of us should be redoubling efforts to end these epidemics, the DPH and it’s Director, Doctor Barbara Ferrer are turning their backs on the LGBT community and their duty to protect the public health of all Angelenos. After the Board of Supervisors voted last year to maintain and even expand STD services to at-risk communities, DPH, under the leadership of Dr. Ferrer, now has eliminated funding for one of the largest providers of free STD testing in the County. With this changed funding approach, it fails to meet its promises and is arbitrarily transferring millions in County costs to community providers like the Center.”
Eliminating this type of funding for the LA LGBT Center is absolutely dangerous. Remember when the government didn’t do anything about the AIDS crisis back in the ‘80s? With PrEP existing, it’s believed that more people are NOT using condoms as regularly when it comes to intercourse. Getting regular testing for the entire community at large is extremely important and should be at the top of the list for the Department of Public Health, not getting discarded as an unimportant entity. And those that have survival sex are going to be hit the hardest by this. We all need to unite and make sure funding goes back to the LA Center and each LGBT Center across the nation.
The LA LGBT Center is imploring all to contact the cities’ Board of Supervisors and Doctor Ferrer herself to make our voices heard. Feel free to use the sample script below:
“Contact your Supervisor and Dr. Ferrer to restore vital care for LGBT people and other communities most at-risk during the County’s current STD epidemics.
Please call and leave a voice mail with your Supervisor at 213-974-1411. If you don’t know your Supervisor, the person answering the phone will help you. Please call Dr. Barbara Ferrer and leave a voice mail at 213-240-8144.
Sample script: I demand that the Board of Supervisors take action to restore this life-saving funding for the LGBT community. Our community has faced the horrors of what happens when access to health care is withheld because of bigotry and stigma. This action by DPH is putting our lives at risk.”
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.