WINCHESTER — AIDS Response Effort [ARE] and the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center will provide free STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing from 2-5 p.m. Friday at the Our Health Campus at 329 N. Cameron St.

The testing includes HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. COVID-19 safety precautions will be taken, and all participants will be required to wear a mask.

Also at the event, volunteers from the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center will provide resources and information that will benefit those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning.

The Shenandoah LGBTQ Center, based in Staunton, was created in 2018. Executive Director Emily Sproul said the organization connects LGBTQ people with support services, safe spaces and affirming health care providers. It also advocates LGBTQ rights to lawmakers, provides educational outreach and holds support groups, potlucks and community events to bring LGBTQ people together.

“Our mission is that we want to address the whole person,” Sproul said. “And LGBTQ folks for so long have lived in the shadows, especially in rural communities. And we want to make sure that everyone in the LGBTQ community has access to the services and the information that they need to make good choices and live a happy and healthy life. For so long it was word of mouth about who the affirming providers were, or where you went to get this or that. And so many people get left out that way. By having a center that’s visible and active in the community, then we can get that information to everybody.”

Shenandoah LGBTQ currently serves the Rockingham, Augusta and Rockbridge communities, but Sproul said the center is considering expanding its services to Harrisionburg and Winchester. Friday’s event will help gauge Winchester’s interest in having an LGBTQ center.

“I think a great start would be to have events up there [in Winchester],” Sproul said. “That’s the way we are going to connect with people and start to understand the need. And then if there’s enough demand and we can swing it financially, we may have an office up there as well.”

Since 2018, the center has helped hundreds of LGBTQ people in the Shenandoah Valley, she said.

For more information about AIDS Response Effort, visit: aidsresponseeffort.org. For more information about the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center, visit: shenlgbtqcenter.org.

— Contact Josh Janney

at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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