FERNDALE — Residents looking to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases can now come to Affirmations Monday through Saturday to receive a variety of checkups in a safe, friendly environment without paying a dime.
Affirmations — the state’s largest community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their allies, located in downtown Ferndale at 290 W. Nine Mile Road — began offering the tests to local adults and youth earlier this month. All testing is free, confidential and anonymous, and is conducted by trained and certified staff.
The checkups are being provided to the community thanks to a partnership between Affirmations, the Ferndale-based Michigan AIDS Coalition, the Detroit-based AIDS Partnership Michigan and the Oakland County Health Division.
According to Johnny Jenkins, director of programs for Affirmations, “These are strategic partnerships to help us prevent the spread of STDs within the LGBT community in southeast Oakland County. We’ve been talking about expanding our HIV and AIDS testing for several months now, so it feels good to be making it happen. Increasing these health services is a huge part of our commitment to reducing STDs among the most vulnerable people in our community.”
HIV and syphilis testing will be held on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 6-9 p.m. and will be conducted by the Michigan AIDS Coalition. The organization will also offer youth-specific HIV testing on the second, third and fourth Fridays of the month from 7:30-9 p.m.
AIDS Partnership Michigan will conduct HIV testing for individuals and couples on Thursday evenings from 5:30-8 p.m. and on Saturday afternoons from 1-2:30 p.m. In addition, the group will provide HIV testing for youth patients on the first Friday of the month from 7:30-9 p.m.
Finally, the Oakland County Health Division will conduct HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis testing on the second Tuesday of the month from 6-9 p.m.
Jenkins pointed out that Affirmations’ expanded testing services already seem to be making an impact. “Just this month, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people coming in to get tested,” he said. “Free counseling is also available for all those who test positive and want to talk to someone, so they don’t have to go through this alone.”
Terry Ryan, CEO of the Michigan AIDS Coalition, was glad to be able to partner with other like-minded organizations to provide more free testing for HIV and other STDs.
“Affirmations was getting an increase in requests for these tests, so we decided to boost our hours of operation,” he said. “A lot of people still don’t even know that they offer these services over there. This is a great opportunity for us to do a better job of reaching our target audience and helping as many people as possible get tested.”
Ryan explained that the demographics of the HIV-positive population has been shifting in recent years. While the majority of those contracting the disease used to be gay white males, current trends include a greater number of African-American men and transgender people.
There is also the issue of the original generation of HIV/AIDS advocates from the late ’80s and early ’90s moving on from the cause. He noted that, unlike 20 years ago, young people who contract the virus often do not know anyone else who has it, or who has died from it, so they are not as informed about the dangers of the disease.
“Now we have to re-educate a new generation about the importance of getting tested for HIV and AIDS and preventing it from spreading to others in the community,” Ryan said. “There is the perception out there that we have such great HIV/AIDS medication now that can increase people’s life span and improve their quality of life, so if people don’t feel sick, they don’t even bother to get tested. That has greatly reduced the level of alarm over this disease to the point where people are underestimating it.”
In addition, Ryan and Jenkins noted that there is still a stigma associated with HIV and AIDS in which people are reluctant to admit that they have it for fear that it will have a negative impact on their personal and professional lives. Consequently, many of those who are infected will keep it a secret from even their closest family and friends.
“For whatever reason, there is still the problem of criminalizing people with HIV/AIDS, so many of them are afraid to come in and get tested,” Jenkins said. “A lot of organizations are not having the conversation about this disease anymore, but we want to re-engage people so that this issue doesn’t just get pushed aside. As leaders of the LGBT community, we are always encouraging people to come in and get tested if they think they need it. Even people who do not identify as LGBT are welcome — we open our doors to everyone.”
For more information on STD testing at Affirmations, call (248) 398-7105 or visit the website www.goaffirmations.org.
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