L.A. County Will Continue to Fund Free STD Testing at the LGBT Center—for Now

The Department of Public Health has temporarily extended the program amid outcry from the community

After a night of online outcry and after hours phone calls, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has agreed to a temporary extension of funds for free STD and HIV testing programs. The agreement comes less than a day after DPH notified the Los Angeles LGBT Center of intended cuts. While only registering as a little blip in the news cycle, the game of chicken between the nonprofit and the county gave a momentary glimpse into a conflict between the two bodies.

“Services were saved and are continuing—for now,” LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said in a statement. “And, between now and the end of March, we will work with Dr. Ferrer and the Department of Public Health to find a long-term solution that ensures care and treatment for our community.”

The county and the LGBT Center had already spent a year of fruitless negotiations prior to the brief, public skirmish, according to the LGBT Center. Now, the two have until March to hammer out a deal.

A seemingly contradictory trend has emerged over the last two decades: Americans are having less sex than ever, but are contracting more Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) than ever. Rates of STIs have skyrocketed over the past few years, especially among marginalized groups with less access to healthcare, including members of the the LGBT community. To combat this trend, organizations like the LGBT Center have offered free STI testing, enabled by funds from DPH.

Nonetheless, the LGBT Center learned yesterday of cuts that would effectively end its program of free testing. The center, one of the largest providers of free testing in the county, put out a press release calling on DPH and its director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, to restore funds for free STI-testing services.

“At a time when all of us should be redoubling efforts to end these epidemics, the Department of Public Health and Dr. Ferrer are turning their backs on the LGBT community and their duty to protect the public health of all Angelenos,” Jean said in a previous statement. “We demand the Board of Supervisors take immediate action to restore care to those who need it most.”

The DPH did not respond to a request for comment.

Almost immediately, popular LGBT voices on social media decried the move and called on others to call DPH and the Board of Supervisors.

This is not the Center’s first budget feud over funds for STI testing. In 2018, DPH announced a similar cut, but the resulting blowback led the County Board of Supervisors to give $5 million to the center and other non-profits for testing.

Los Angeles County has seen an alarming rise in STIs over the last five years—a 98 percent increase in syphilis, 81 percent increase in gonorrhea, and 25 percent increase in chlamydia. Last year, the California Department of Public Health declared that rates were at their highest levels in 30 years. While all demographics saw a rise in infections, CDPH noted the biggest rise among young people ages 15 to 24, African-Americans, and gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

In response to CDPH’s report, End the Epidemics, a statewide coalition of over 100 public health and community organizations pointed to failures in public policy,: “These sharp increases in STDs are largely due to inadequate funding and inattention from elected officials resulting in a depleted public health infrastructure that is ill-equipped to handle a crisis of this magnitude.”

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