Meeting NoVa Health Needs
Due in part to the state’s historically conservative tilt and anti-gay policies that have been enacted in state law, Virginia is often viewed as having a dearth of resources for LGBT people, particularly gay, bisexual or transgender men.
It’s that reputation that James Leslie hopes to counter through his work with the Gay Men’s Health Collaborative (GMHC), an initiative intended to provide HIV-prevention services and resources to at-risk LGBT residents of Northern Virginia.
Leslie, an HIV-health educator and gay men’s health coordinator at Inova Fairfax Hospital, which houses the offices of GMHC, says he wants GMHC to provide the kinds of services for Northern Virginia’s LGBT community that nonprofit community health center Whitman-Walker Health does for residents of the District.
Leslie says the need for intervention and prevention services has become increasingly apparent following the late-June closure of the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry (NOVAM), an organization that provided HIV/AIDS-related prevention and educational services. NOVAM’s closure essentially left Northern Virginia without a primary health resource focused on gay men. Leslie also points out that there are very few social opportunities for LGBT people, particularly GBT men, whose rates of infection are higher, to socialize or find support outside of gay bars, most of which are located in the District.
To address those needs, GMHC has adopted a two-pronged approach, facilitating programs geared not only toward HIV-prevention and overall physical health, but building individuals’ self-esteem and bolstering their mental and emotional well-being.
On the testing end, GMHC holds its Rainbow Tuesdays Clinic, which provides free, confidential HIV testing and STI screenings on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, in conjunction with the Alexandria Health Department. GMHC has also held HIV testing at various locations in Northern Virginia, such as Freddie’s Beach Bar in Arlington, and Lotus Blooms, an adult boutique in Old Town Alexandria, which will host a testing session from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21. STI screenings may be offered in addition to HIV testing, if space at those alternative locations permits.