«Pride is the Christmas of the queer community»

Our Travel Clinic has enjoyed a close collaboration with the Checkpoint Zurich, a health center for queer people, for years. Lars Wolfer coordinates the prevention projects there and told us what makes the Checkpoint so special and what they have planned for this year's Pride.

«Pride is the Christmas of the queer community»

Our Travel Clinic has enjoyed a close collaboration with the Checkpoint Zurich, a health center for queer people, for years. Lars Wolfer coordinates the prevention projects there and told us what makes the Checkpoint so special and what they have planned for this year's Pride.

Who are you and what is your field of work?

My name is Lars Wolfer. I work in the division for prevention at the Checkpoint Zurich. I am responsible for Pride, the STI testing campaigns in spring and fall, and for the discussion series «Checkpoint im Gespräch», which is about HIV and LGBTQ+ topics.


My colleague Chris (Christian Grolimund) coordinates the mobile outreaches of our prevention team, where our staff does outreach work in clubs, bars or saunas and also offer testing. Another project is specifically designed for male and trans sex workers. And then there is «Queer Plus», a peer-to-peer program for people with HIV.


Was the peer to peer program developped here? How does it work?

After a new HIV diagnosis, some people feel the need to talk to others who are also living with HIV. There are profiles of peer counselors on our website. You can contact the person who most appeals to you - for example, who is the same age or has a similar biography. For many people it is helpful to talk to someone who is in a similar situation.


The Checkpoint is a health center for queer people. What does that mean exactly? How long has the Checkpoint existed? What do you offer?

The Checkpoint Zurich has been around for over 15 years. Our two sponsors are Sexuelle Gesundheit Zürich SeGZ (formerly Aidshilfe Zürich) and Arud, Center for Addiction Medicine. The health center sprang from the community, meaning, it was conceived by MSM (men who have sex with men), because at that time the need for confidential treatment was very great. If you went to your family doctor as a gay man with syphilis, you were often looked at strangely.


The Checkpoint is a «safe space». No one is judged here, no one has to be ashamed of anything. So we break down that stigma by talking openly and casually about sex and STIs. Over time, Checkpoint has grown and people have recognized the need in the broader queer community. Therefore, it has been made accessible to a broader clientele: the Checkpoint no longer welcomes only MSM.


With the competence centre for trans people, it is now also an important contact point for trans people in German-speaking Switzerland. In addition, our services have been continuously expanded: we no longer only do STI testing or treatment and HIV therapy, but also have a comprehensive range of counseling services, offer professional psychological counseling as well as therapies, and recently even added family medicine to our services.


People who are not part of the queer community may not always be aware of the importance of such a health center. Can you tell me something about the significance of such an institution for the queer community?

Many may underestimate the importance of a «safe space» It is not a given that you will be welcomed and treated without prejudice. Queer people feel welcome here not only because of our accepting, respectful attitude, but also because many queer people work here. The community recognizes itself here and feels understood. Of course, non-queer people are also welcome. Especially the testing for STIs is also popular with heterosexual clients.


Makes sense, STIs don't stop at hetis[1] after all. Do many come?

There are indeed quite a few who appreciate the offer and come. The pilot project B25 starts in June. People under 26 who live in the city of Zurich or have a Kultur-Legi can be tested for STIs and treated free of charge. In addition to the Checkpoint, this service is also available at Test-in, the SeGZ counseling and testing center at Kanzleistrasse.


Another population you advocate for is sex workers. You offer discounted/free STI testing and treatment for male and trans sex workers. Can you tell us about your involvement in this area?

Male and trans sex workers are a particularly vulnerable group, which is why they need special attention. We offer low-threshold access to testing and treatment through street work.


You mentioned that male and trans sex workers need special attention. What does that mean?

Sex work is work. Our clients don't have to fear prejudice and can acces sexual health support through us very easily. Our two employees build trust with the sex workers in the street work. At the Flora Dora counseling center on Langstrasse, we offer free tests and PrEP[2] counseling twice a month.


We have already collaborated with you on some projects. What can you tell us about that?

The interdisciplinary perspective and the exchange of expertise in joint projects are fruitful for both sides. In addition, our institutions get more attention when we appear together. This promotes both quality of care for the queer community and research in the field.

We have collaborated on the Corona as well as the Mpox vaccination campaigns. We have vaccinated against both here at the Checkpoint as well. We also continue to work closely together on SwissPrEPared[3], which certainly contributed to the success of that project. I personally worked with the EBPI[4] on the RealRisks study. It was a sub-study of SwissPrEPared for which I was responsible for recruitment. It examined the impact of dating apps on sexual and mental health.


You have been involved in Pride for many years. What does this event mean to you and your community?

We've already achieved a lot, but if you look at the current political climate in Switzerland and worldwide, queer friendliness is going downhill a lot right now. I'm talking specifically about trans hostility and the attacks on drag queens.


The community is all about visibility, being loud, taking up space, showing solidarity, coming together. Many get to know themselves at Pride, have their outing afterwards, finally feel that they belong. Pride is the Christmas of the queer community. Our other holiday is the Eurovision Song Contest. 😉


What does the Checkpoint have planned for this year's Pride Parade?

We have a big tent again, where we offer testing. And at the parade, as always, we have a float.


Didn't you offer testing on the cart once?

That was in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic. We weren't allowed to hold a festival because of Corona, but the parade was happening. So we quickly converted a truck into a mobile testing unit and offered testing on it before and after the parade. The cabins were separated by shower curtains.


Testing at Pride is pretty popular, isn't it?

We usually test between 300 and 500 people.


Is it mainly young Pride visitors who come to you for testing?

Yes, last year half of the people were between 20 and 29. For almost a third of the people tested, it was their first HIV test ever. So we also reach a lot of new people at Pride. More than two thirds of all tested people have never been to the Checkpoint before.


Is Pride testing the event where you reach the most new people?

No, that's the campaigns. We are allowed to offer 750 discounted STI tests twice a year. For the last two years, it's been free for under 25 year olds, and of course that attracts young people. At Pride, we simply reach people we wouldn't otherwise reach. The festival testing has a bit of a lower threshold.


Pride Month is coming up: what do you want everyone celebrating to keep in mind?

Drink enough and take care of each other.


Are there other organizations and centers for queer people in Switzerland that our readers should know about?

There is also a Checkpoint in Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Wadt and Geneva. Otherwise, the Swiss AIDS Federation is also a good place to go for information about HIV, and then there are the Pink Cross -the umbrella organization for gay and bisexual men in Switzerland-, and the Lesbian Organization Switzerland (LOS) -the national umbrella organization for lesbians, bisexuals and queer women in Switzerland-.

For young people, the Milchjugend, the largest youth organization for queer people in Switzerland, or also Du bist Du, a youth organization for the LGBT+ community that builds on the peer approach, are certainly interesting.

For queer family planning, the Dachverband Regenbogenfamilien can be helpful and for older people there is Queer Altern, a housing, care and counseling project.

Regarding events, Offstream (queer party culture Zurich), the Kweerball and the Heldenbar spontaneously come to mind.


Thank you Lars for the interview and I wish you a wonderful Pride!


[1] Heti: heterosexual person

[2] PrEP: «pre-exposure pro», a medication that protects against an HIV infection

[3] See Interview with Manuela Rasi

[4] EBPI: Institut for Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention, to which the Department Public & Global Health and, therefore, the Travel Clinic, belong

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