Despite advances in research and treatment over many years, the HIV virus unfortunately remains a threat to both the gay and non-gay population on international, national and local levels.
On our local level, the LGBT Network has announced that it has expanded its services by starting a free, rapid and confidential drop-in service at its community center in Sag Harbor to screen and test people for HIV and to educate them about HIV prevention and treatment. This is the first such program on the East End of Long Island.
Robert Vitelli, Chief Operating Officer of the LGBT Network, who has been COO for approximately eight years, and with the Network for 18 years, relayed, "The LGBT Network is the only human services, non-profit organization on Long Island that solely services the LGBT community. We have a lot of responsibility and work ahead of us still with regard to HIV and AIDS. Some people think that since the success of marriage equality and the reduction in discrimination and bullying that there is no longer a considerable need to keep focus and funding on the HIV/AIDS crisis in our own communities."
Vitelli offered a sobering statistic, "What many people don't know is that more than 50 percent of all new HIV cases on Long Island are among gay and bisexual men. On the East End, approximately 2 1/2 percent of the community is gay or bisexual - that is a significant number, and we have been able to garner tremendous support from both individuals and other resources to be able to offer these services on the East End."
The new service, available at the Old Whaler's Church on Union Street in Sag Harbor, is a significant expansion as it marks the implementation of such services at all four of the Network's community centers. The others centers are located in Bay Shore, Woodbury and Long Island City in Queens.
For those seeking testing, screening or education you can drop into the Sag Harbor Community Center on Tuesdays between 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Otherwise call 631-899-4950 to make an appointment for any other day.
Vitelli continued, "We are a professional human services non-profit organization providing 25 years of services. We have an incredible history of funding and support from the New York State Department of Health, and adhere to strict guidelines with regard to confidentiality, secured records, and other regulations which are always of the utmost important to us, and which we must follow."
According to Vitelli, screening and testing is performed by a trained staff who can also help people to access PrEP, (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which is a pill taken daily by people who do not have HIV to prevent against the disease. Additionally, the staff can also arrange for transportation for those who need further medical or diagnostic treatment.
"This is a major expansion for the LGBT Network. If someone tests positive, we are there for people taking the first steps for HIV treatment," Vitelli said. Continuing, "The Network will be conducting outreach programs to the Hispanic community on the East End as many Hispanics these days fear coming forward for any type of services because of the Trump administration's immigration policies, language barriers, or being undocumented or uninsured. We do not want any new American to ignore seeking our help. We can offer assistance, and analyze and evaluate other options to overcoming any hurdles or battles with regard to seeking treatment."
"We are certainly worried about the current funding levels being sustained, and will continue to advocate for funding from both individuals and government agencies, which is critical to our continued success."
For more information on testing and other LGBT Network services, call 631-665-2300, or go to lgbtnetwork.org.
Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.