Magnet, our gay men’s health center in the Castro, celebrates its ninth birthday in July. In the span of just nine years, Magnet has become an essential resource for thousands of gay and bisexual men in our community to maintain good health. We sat down with Magnet Director Steve Gibson to talk about how Magnet started, what it offers today, and his vision for the future.
You first started serving customers on July 9, 2003.
We remodeled a vacant storefront that had been the old Statscript Pharmacy in the Castro. Years before that, it was the site of Dino’s Liquors!
Magnet was conceived of by a group of gay men and other community activists who wanted to redefine health beyond an HIV-positive or HIV-negative paradigm and look at our health in a broader context, including our health as a community. Initially, we were under UCSF before joining San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 2007. We started with five staff members and no volunteers. We projected we would conduct 1,500 clinical visits per year.
Flash forward nine years, and a lot has changed.
Yes. We now have 20 employees and more than 100 volunteers! This year we anticipate 15,000 clinical visits. We will provide 9,000 HIV tests, more than 25,000 gonorrhea and Chlamydia tests, nearly 12,000 syphilis tests, and more than 800 hepatitis A and B vaccinations.
For anyone who has never been to Magnet, it’s much more than just a place to get a test.
Absolutely! In addition to sexual health services, Magnet is a community space, hosting art receptions and other cultural events, massage, acupuncture, and a variety of social events (see Magnet's upcoming events on their website - magnetsf.org). Magnet’s holistic approach promotes the physical, mental, and social well-being of all gay and bi men.
And everything is free?
All of our services are offered a no cost to anyone who walks through our doors, but we gladly accept donations.
Magnet is quite unique…
We want guys to feel welcome when they come to us, and we are committed to providing a friendly, inviting space. You don’t find many wellness centers like this in the United States or around the world. In fact, every year we have public health officials from all levels of government and service providers from across the globe who visit us to see what we’re doing at Magnet. We recently had officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visit, as well as the Executive Director from UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé. Michel sent a very kind thank-you letter after his visit and said, “I came to San Francisco to learn about the history of the AIDS response, yet visiting Magnet also helped me learn about the future innovations required to expand access to lifesaving HIV services.” It’s a testament to how vital we are in our community.
You recently dramatically increased your services.
This past year was a huge year of growth. We have now more than doubled our capacity for HIV tests and screenings for other sexually transmitted infections by implementing our Express Lane, a concept from Magnet’s original planning that was finally made possible through the support of our partners at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
We are now implementing a new text message system to send customers reminders to make appointments quarterly or every six months, as well as monthly sexual health tips for gay guys. We’re also exploring new ways to expand our services even more to provide more tests and screenings every year.
What are you most proud of?
Frankly, that it worked beyond our wildest expectations! Our basic belief that gay men value their health has been proven to be true. This wasn’t the prevailing belief when we started, nor is it the norm at a national level, but here in San Francisco, it is. The staff and volunteers affect the lives of our customers on a profound level. Years of internalized homophobia, guilt, shame, and sexual repression can’t be wiped away at the bat of an eye, but each one of us can improve the lives of each customer we see and in turn improve the health of our community.
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