A new clinic specializing in gay men's health opens Friday in Winnipeg's Exchange District.

The aim of Our Own Health Centre is to offer a safe space for gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men to access health care. The clinic is also open to the general public.

"As a gay man myself, about 30 years ago, I first proposed this idea in Winnipeg and at that time I had hoped to be able to develop this clinic in the context of HIV," said Dr. Dick Smith, medical director at the clinic. 

At the time, the numbers of those infected by HIV in Winnipeg were too small to justify a clinic on HIV care for gay men, he said. 

Over the years, clinics that include LGBT health services have popped up. Smith said the difference between Our Own Health Centre and other clinics is that it's focused on men who have sex with men.

The clinic will provide family medicine, walk-in services, surgical procedures, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted illnesses, fitness and nutrition evaluation and assistance, support to stop smoking, medication reviews and sexology consultation to the public.

"It's an important milestone but we are still far from securely achieving our goal," he said.

The clinic's goal is to be financially successful enough to hire counsellors and psychologists to address mental health issues and social workers to address street issues and substance abuse in the gay community, Smith said. 

"A lot of our patients just express a huge sense of relief, feeling free to be themselves and be candid about their lives and to recount the difficulties they've had," he said.

Health for one, health for all

The clinic's executive director, Dr. Bryan Magwood, said it's important to the general community to meet the health-related needs of gay and bisexual men.

"We know gay and bisexual men often feel uncomfortable to speak with their providers about their own health care needs," he said. 

"If these men don't seek the care that they require; that has risks for both them, the health of their partner and the health of the community in general."

And that knowledge helps inform the clinic's purpose.

"This space is so people can come here and be totally comfortable with who they are to talk to people who understand and experts in their community," Magwood said.

The grand opening starts at 7 p.m. with speeches and a ribbon cutting ceremony.