LGBTQ+ forum discusses Washington County changes
MARIETTA — Following a weekend meeting in Marietta, members and advocates of the LGBTQ+ community in Washington County are moving forward on a wish list to help support residents here.
On Saturday, a group discussed ways to combat discrimination, promote safety and increase resources for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning. The discussion was part of an ongoing series of forums focused on bringing awareness to the needs and struggles of a marginalized group in southeast Ohio.
“We were a small but mighty bunch. The discussion went very well and we came away with some action items and goals,” said Douglas Koala Robinson, communications director for the Southeastern Ohio LGBT Coalition, based in Athens.
The public forums will continue with a goal of evaluating the needs of the LGBTQ+ community in southeast Ohio in the hopes of becoming more aware of how to address those needs. This particular forum was held Saturday at the First Unitarian Universalist Society on Third Street in Marietta.
Those in attendance broke off into small discussion groups to determine what was the most pressing issue facing those in the LGBTQ+ community. These included general safety and non-discrimination/acceptance, support for youth, general health and mental health support representation. The group was then asked to identify a wish list of action items, which included creating a mobile center offering mental health and other services and space for meetings, a mentorship program with a mental health connection for both youth and adults and tracking anti-discrimination and protection legislation to offer the information to the local community.
“I was pleased with the turnout and I think it has connected many LGBTQ community leaders in this part of the state who will now collaborate on many projects and create significant change,” said Cory Sampson, 24, of Lowell, a member of the Unitarian Universalist congregation who was in attendance at Saturday’s forum. “Going into the forum, I wanted to see what other groups had done to address similar issues those of us in Washington County have encountered in the past and how to handle those situations in the future.”
Sampson said he was also hoping to hear advice from others who were dealing with addressing health care needs for the LGBTQ+ community. He has been leading separate groups for local people to get together and discuss what he and others feel is a crucial problem.
“The biggest issue those of us in Washington County currently face is a lack of STD testing availability. There are currently no free STD screenings in the county and the only free testing available is for HIV only, offered for one hour once a month,” said Sampson. “This is not just an LGBTQ issue; it affects many different populations and as a community we need to seek to find a solution sooner than later.”
Sampson said that his group has recently emailed Memorial Health System to set up a meeting to discuss some of these health-related concerns but, thus far, nothing has materialized.
Val Betkoski, director of nursing for the Washington County Health Department, said that, unfortunately, the availability of testing comes down to money.
“We used to offer HIV and Hep C testing on a walk-in basis but we no longer have the funding from the state,” she said. “We do offer the HIV testing, usually the second week of the month depending on the availability of the person who comes up from Portsmouth City Health Department.”
Betkoski mentioned that it is an issue that impacts the entire community and she hopes that those concerned will reach out to their state representatives.
“I do miss that program. It used to be that people could come inconspicuously and be tested. Now that it’s a certain day and certain time, there is less anonymity and it discourages people from getting tested,” she said.
Southeastern Ohio LGBT Coalition, Ohio University LGBT Center and Southeast Ohio LGBTQ+ Center joined forces to better focus their individual missions through these forums and assessments, and aim any future endeavors based on the desires of the community. Robinson said the coalition is also planning to offer a “safe zone” training to the Marietta City Schools Board of Education in the future. The Southeastern Ohio LGBT is seeking input about where to have their next forums. Reach out to them by calling 740-969-5427 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.