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The Center: A Safe Environment for All

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   Free council, free support groups, free syphilis and HIV testing: these are just a portion of the services provided for Vegas’s LGBTQ+ community at The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada, a building less than a 10 minute walk away from LVA.

   The Center, located at 401 S. Maryland Pkwy, has strived to provide a safe and welcoming space for all people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, or age since 1992. Although the establishment has been around for as long as LVA has, many students don’t even know that such a place exists in Las Vegas, much less the myriad of resources offered to the LGBTQ+ youth, a community in which LVA students are adamantly involved.

   “They face a lot of challenges, and we’re able to help them through that,” says Aj Holly Huth, who is the Youth Resource Specialist and PREP Coordinator at The Center.

   Essentially, she works with the young people who come in seeking for help and support. QVolution, the program “designed to meet the social, support, recreation, and development needs of LGBTQ+ and Ally youth” is a direct reflection of her contribution to the Center and the community. Events such as the all-inclusive prom are organized under QVolution.

   Apart from working directly with the LGBTQ+ youth, Huth speaks on behalf of the community at school board meetings participating in conversations that directly affect students at school. Most recently she has been campaigning for policies and guidelines that would protect the transgender youth in school.

   “Although being trans isn’t new, trans visibility is,” says Huth. “This is a new thing for adults to learn how to navigate. We go to things like that [school board meetings] to try to help educate other people there that might be opposed [ to LGBTQ+ rights].”

   Huth also teaches a comprehensive sex-ed class going over topics such as safe-sex practices and consent, topics that school-based health classes may gloss over.

   “We want to prevent people from coming into our clinic and being told they’re positive with HIV, and they’re 15  years old,” says Huth. “It’s stuff that we see on a daily basis.”

   But those at The Center, including Huth, understand that prevention will never be full proof; that is why they provide a clinic that offers free syphilis and HIV testing. Anyone can come, and those over the age of 13 are not required to have parental consent. Channing Carney-Filmore, the HIV outreach coordinator, oversees the clinic. Half of her time is spent there administering tests and providing counseling and risk reduction while the other half is spent in her office organizing events to help raise HIV awareness.

   As Nevada is ranked 21st out of the country in HIV diagnoses and fifth in syphilis rates in 2015 (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), awareness and education are crucial for lowering the risk of transmission.

   Filmore says her goal is to further education about HIV and to reduce the stigma surrounding it. “I want to make sure that the [clients] are comfortable with us, especially with me, and [work] with them to live a really long, healthy life,” says Filmore.

   Her agenda to reduce the stigma was ignited the summer she spent studying and researching HIV abroad in India when she met a woman who was a victim of an acid attack due to her contraction of the disease. “The stigma in India is really bad,” she describes. “I had cases where a few ladies were doused with acid by their husbands.”

   When even her translator began to make ignorant remarks towards the victim, Filmore decided then and there that she would dedicate her life to ending the stigma around HIV.

   “It’s not about special rights, it’s not about gay rights, it’s about equal rights,” says André C. Wade, director of the Center.

   As the director, Wade’s work mainly includes fundraising, supervising day-to-day operations, and handling of public relations. However, his main goal is to promote equality through diversity and inclusion. That is why he has been a dedicated human rights activist for the past 20 years.

   In 2017, Wade helped pass legislation AB99 which furthered LGBTQ+ rights in Nevada. It requires “certain institutions and agencies to treat a child as having the gender with which the child identifies” and also “requiring certain persons to receive training on working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning children.”

   Wade has been the director for less than a year, but already he’s optimistic of the future and filled with new ideas to improve the Center. However, a focus right now of the organization, as always, is to secure efficient funding so that the community can continue growing and developing programs. Huth even has dreams of creating a housing unit for the homeless LGBTQ+ youth. But all of this, even the future of the Center, is not possible without the necessary funding. In a letter from 2017 addressing and confirming rumors of cut findings, the “Executive Committee of the Board of Directors” asks for support from community members. Support can come in the form of donations, but Huth, Filmore, and Wade also stress the significance of volunteering (volunteers must be 18 years or older). Attending events, which can be found on the Center’s website at thecenterlv.org, also benefits the organization.

   If the Center is to continue to thrive, community members such as students must spread the word and bring attention to the services of the organization and offer their time and support, because at the end of the day, “it’s not just for the LGBTQ community.”

   “We’re a true community center,” says Huth, and “we just try to help and support people when they need it the most.” 

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