Strut celebrates first year
by Liz Highleyman
Strut, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's health and wellness center for gay, bisexual, and trans men, celebrated its first anniversary with a party at its Castro Street headquarters.
Best known for its Magnet sexual health services – including the popular PrEP program – Strut is also home to Positive Force, the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network for men age 50 and over, the DREAAM Project for young African-Americans, the Stonewall substance use health program, and the Bridgemen volunteer program.
"San Francisco AIDS Foundation is incredibly proud of all that Strut has accomplished during its first year," SFAF CEO Joe Hollendoner told the Bay Area Reporter. "In the months and years ahead we will continue to build upon Strut's innovative model in order to ensure that San Francisco achieves its goal of getting to zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths."
The wall-to-wall crowd at the March 6 event heard an overview of programs and services from Strut staff, enjoyed entertainment by Miss GAPA Juicy Liu, and had an opportunity to get a spanking from newly sashed Mr. San Francisco Leather Geoff Millard.
Victor Ruiz-Cornejo from state Senator Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) office presented a proclamation commending Strut on its anniversary. Wiener came out publicly as a PrEP user in 2014 while he was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Ruiz-Cornejo said Strut was the first place to help him get on PrEP after his regular doctor didn't feel comfortable prescribing it.
Strut provides support services for HIV-positive people, prevention services for HIV-negative people, and community events open to all.
"Last year alone we helped more than 150 HIV-positive individuals access health care, find a doctor, improve medication adherence, and access all the specific services that will keep them healthy and happy and living a long and successful life," said Strut health navigation manager Jimmy Gale, appearing as his alter ego Stephanie Nicole LeDream. "We're helping people access housing, food, transportation, and most importantly, providing support so they don't feel alone."
Representatives from the community engagement team reported that they have held more than 80 events at Strut, bringing over 9,000 people through the doors. The team hosts art openings every first Friday, poetry nights, comedy nights, and drag nights. In addition, Bridgemen members volunteered for 30 different organizations, contributing a total of 2,613 hours of community service.
A little over a year after Strut's long-delayed opening, SFAF is close to reaching its financial target for funding the new center.
"Strut would not be possible without the generous support of the individual, institutional, and government partners that have helped San Francisco AIDS Foundation to achieve 97 percent of our $15 million goal for the Campaign for Health and Wellness," Hollendoner told the B.A.R. "The campaign has not only allowed SFAF to co-locate some of our most beloved and effective programs at Strut, it has also allowed us to expand services, including the provision of same-day PrEP services."
The Strut building at 470 Castro Street, with nearly 5,000 square feet of space on three floors, has enabled SFAF to expand its case management, mental health counseling, substance use and harm reduction services, and sexual health services, including sexually transmitted disease screening.
But even with the added space, sexual health services are bursting at the seams.
Since Strut opened its doors last year, more than 16,700 clients have used Magnet's sexual health services, according to director of sexual health Joshua O'Neal. Between 60 and 80 people per day take advantage of Strut's clinical services. Over 2,000 people have now enrolled in the PrEP program, including 1,000 last year alone.
At the International AIDS Conference last July, Strut's director of nursing, Pierre-Cedric Crouch, reported that the PrEP program has enjoyed great success – including no new HIV infections to date. But as with most PrEP efforts in the U.S., more work is needed to address disparities, especially reaching young gay and bi men of color.
Crouch said that 4 percent of Strut's PrEP clients are black, a group that accounts for 17 percent of all new HIV infections in San Francisco and about 40 percent of new diagnoses among gay and bi men nationwide.
The DREAAM Project aims to help fill this gap. Along with its regular Friday evening events for young black gay, bi, and same-gender-loving men and trans women under 18, it will host a daytime PrEP rally for young people of color at Strut Saturday, April 22, program manager Tony Bradford announced.
With community support, Strut plans to continue building on its "under one roof" model in the years to come.
"We couldn't undertake this innovative and impactful sexual health work without the backing of our communities and we are truly grateful for all of their support," O'Neal told the B.A.R. "Strut is still young, and we look forward to the growth and transformation ahead."