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SFSU moves to expand free HIV and STD testing services to all students, regardless of gender and sexual orientation

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S.F. State student Jose Francisco brought attention to an inequity in health services after being denied a free screening because of his sexual orientation. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco State University this week began offering free HIV and STI testing to all LGBTQ students on campus for the first time after complaints from student activists that only heterosexual students were being given free access to the service.

Throughout most California State Universities, free reproductive health services including HIV and STI testing are provided to students through the state-funded Family Planning Access Care and Treatment program. This program has served 6,323 students at SFSU in the last year. However, to be eligible, students must generally be involved in heterosexual relationships with the ability to reproduce.

Jose Francisco, a student at SFSU and an intern at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said he went into the university’s student health center last spring for a routine screening, but was denied free HIV/STI testing that his straight peers were given at no cost.

“I was told that because of my sexual history I would not be granted those tests,” Francisco said. “It only adhered to people who identified as heterosexual.”

Francisco said he ended up paying more than $200 for the HIV and STI screening on campus because it was the most convenient way for him to get tested as a student. Other clinics in The City, like STRUT, offer free testing but have long lines and booking an appointment would have taken days if not weeks, he said.

It was after that experience that Francisco said he met with Gene Chelburg, associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment at SFSU, arguing the university was discriminating against and withholding health resources from the LGBTQ community.

“Student Health Services acknowledges the inequity in STI testing access that previously existed within our clinic for our LGBTQ+ community,” Chelburg said on Tuesday. “We take responsibility and ownership for this lapse in access and deeply appreciate the student activism taken to bring this issue to our full attention.”

University officials began working with The City’s Department of Public Health to make health services at the university more equitable.

Dr. Kay Gamo, a physician from the university’s student health services center, worked with Dr. Susan Philip, director of the disease prevention and control branch for the Department of Public Health, to funnel funding toward chlamydia and gonorrhea testing for students who are not eligible for Family PACT.

“We felt that it was really important given our resources are for STD screenings every year for young women and every three to six months for gay and bisexual men, men having sex with other men and transgender people,” Philip said. “We’re hoping to learn a lot about how students find a program and how successful we are at treating these students.”

HIV and syphilis testing on campus has been rolled into funding from the annual $318 mandatory health fee each student pays in tuition.

SFSU was not the first university in the Cal State system to implement additional programs to provide free HIV/STI testing for all of its students, but it also isn’t the last, according to Chelburg.

“If [other CSU’s are] not providing the same equity resources to sexual minorities that they already provide for heterosexual identifying students, I hope that they can see the inequality in that and understand that first and foremost we should be taking care of our students,” Francisco said.

Francisco said the university still has work to do to make the campus more equitable as a whole for all of its students.

“Within the institution there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made,” Francisco said. “Whether that’s access to gender-neutral bathrooms, a more competent training within the institution overall, or addressing different gender and sexual identity here on campus.”

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