Oct 28th 2006 - Hanging around during escapology practice. The rigger next to me is MRK.
Since my last column I've visited Chicago for a Hellfire Club weekend, which was a lot of fun. I've also had a chance to try upside down escapes in escapology practice for the first time - with some success. I managed to cope with the blood rushing to my head, but I definitely need to work on my abdominal muscles!
One of the projects I supported during my IML year was Magnet, a health centre located in San Francisco's Castro district. I wanted to know how they've been getting on, so I emailed Magnet's Community Organizer, Kevin Roe, for an update:
What makes Magnet unique?
The physical space and design are definitely different, being more design chic than sterile clinic. So too is our customer service approach over the traditional hierarchy of doctor/ patient. Most importantly, however, is our commitment to our core values of self-determination, access, sexual expression, diversity, and leadership. Our core values can be viewed at www.magnetsf.org/about/values.html
What services does Magnet offer?
We provide individual sexual health services, as well as community events for the area. Services include STD/ STI testing and treatment, HIV testing, hepatitis vaccinations, mental health counselling, acupuncture, massage, and hypnotherapy. Community events include a monthly open mic, town hall forums, art exhibits, book readings, and events like the EasyBake Bake Off I & II! To find out what's going on each month you can check our website: www.magnetsf.org/community/index.html, or get our monthly e-bulletin by writing to info (at) magnetsf.org
What geographical area do you cover?
Our primary area is San Francisco. Given that gay men come here from all over, however, we see men from the entire Bay Area, every county in California, almost every state in the Union, and a number of men from other countries. If anyone is in town I hope they'll visit us at 4122 18th Street, Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Some time later...
Do you just look after gay men?
While we would like to offer services to anyone in need our mission, funding, and capacity demand that we limit our sexual health services to men in our community. All other services and community events are open to anyone, and everything is free!
Can people have tests at Magnet anonymously, or do they have to give their real name?
All our testing is "confidential", meaning a name and address have to be provided - these are reportable diseases under State law. We don't ask for any ID, however, so there's a good chance that some of the names people use are not real. When we first opened "George Bush" was seen on an almost daily basis. Who knew he was so active in our community?
Will the test results be disclosed to their doctor?
Results are not disclosed without the permission of the customer, with the exception of positive results to the County Health Department as required by law. As long as someone comes back to Magnet and gets treated (or lets us know they've been treated), the Health Department does not do any more follow up. Luckily, we have about a 93% rate of return for treatment.
In the UK we've noticed a huge rise in sexually transmitted infections in recent years, especially syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Have you seen the same trend in the USA?
Yes, we have. The original funding for Magnet came in response to rising HIV and syphilis rates in San Francisco. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia have also been on the rise, as well as HPV (warts), quickly becoming the most common STD/ STI in the US. In fact, at Magnet we've found higher than expected rates of pharyngeal (throat) gonorrhoea without symptoms. Practicing safer sex is a start, but changing attitudes around sex and increasing access to testing and treatment will also help.
If someone's worried they might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection what would you recommend?
Get tested and treated if necessary, and tell your sex partners that they may have been exposed and should get tested. If you can, get 'partner packs' from your clinic for your buddies. If you're a little shy about telling people there's a website in some locations that allows you to send cards announcing your news. You can even do it anonymously. Check out InSpot.org at www.inspot.org and share the news!
What do you think are the biggest health problems facing our community?
I think our biggest health problems involve the psychosocial aspects of our interactions with each other. Communication, mentoring, self-esteem, feelings of isolation, etc. are problems that have been with us all along, but are rarely addressed. That's a problem because the outcome of not dealing with these issues tends to be behaviours that put individuals at risk for clinical problems, so we end up with high rates of smoking and alcohol consumption, the abuse of other drugs, and a lack of sexual negotiation skills.
Sept 2003 - Looking around the Magnet lobby in San Francisco
How many people did you help last year?
We see approximately 4,500 customers each year, or about 300-350 men each month, and that's just for clinical services. Community events regularly draw anywhere from 20-60 people for each event, and we try to have at least something each week.
How are you funded?
Current funding includes 49% from public sources (the SF Health Department), and 51% from foundations, and corporate and individual donors. We are extremely proud of our community in their support of Magnet - last year we raised $120,000 from individual donors. That's an amazing amount for a new non-profit.
What help do you need from the community?
Money, manpower, and vocal support of Magnet's importance to San Francisco and the rest of the globe. After all, men who have sex here often don't stay here. Without money, volunteers and support places like Magnet don't have much chance at survival. It's expensive, but upstream prevention is always more cost effective than downstream fixes. So let our/ your officials know that you want Magnet and other places like it to be funded and supported. If you've got the time, volunteer for us, and if you've got the money - donate! You can even do it online from our homepage at www.magnetsf.org - click on the button on the left hand side of the front page.
If people in other cities want to set up a similar scheme can they contact you for help?
Absolutely! We've already spoken with groups in Portland, Seattle, Boston, and London, to name a few. We've found a great interest in the "Magnet model" and gladly share our experience and knowledge with others. Email kevin (at) magnetsf.org to find out how to set up a Magnet in your neighbourhood.
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003