Villager photo by Bonnie Rosenstock
Outreach program and van target at-risk gay youth
By Gabriel Zucker
The fact that Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a medical services center for L.G.B.T. patients, has received Title X funds to help prevent unwanted pregnancies might elicit a double take for many people.
“You wouldn’t think that family planning would intuitively apply to L.G.B.T. young people,” admitted Reed Christian, the director of Callen-Lorde’s Health Outreach to Teens (HOTT) program, which is taking on the new initiative. “But there’s been some research that shows that young women who identify as lesbian or bisexual have a disproportionate number of unplanned pregnancies.”
Indeed, according to a recent study by the McCreary Centre Society, 7.3 percent of lesbian and 10.6 percent of bisexual teenage girls say they have been pregnant, compared to just 1.8 percent of their straight counterparts.
Those sort of issues, according to Christian, are what make a program like HOTT necessary.
“Doctors aren’t supportive, and they don’t know what the specific needs of L.G.B.T. young people are,” she said. “I think that’s a big part of the lack of healthcare for L.G.B.T. young people.”
Callen-Lorde, located at 356 W. 18th St., has its roots in a pair of L.G.B.T. clinics that date back to 1969, and is currently the only solely L.G.B.T. health center in the city. The HOTT program dates back to 1989 and provides a wide range of services for L.G.B.T. adolescents, including general medical care, primary H.I.V. care, special care for transgender patients, psychiatry, mental health counseling, dental services, health education and family planning.
According to Christian, HOTT’s niche is precisely in its wide range of services.
“What’s unique is the multidisciplinary approach,” she said. “Everybody who comes in is sort of evaluated for all the stresses that are impacting their medical care. That includes whether or not they have public housing, whether or not they have public benefits or insurance, what their mental health needs are, and what sort of topics they need to explore to become more self-actualized and increase their self-esteem.”
HOTT sees more than 700 patients and has 2,500 patient visits annually. A considerable amount of their work, though, happens not in their small second-floor office, but in their outreach van. The HOTT van travels to youth emergency drop-in centers and locations popular among L.G.B.T. teens twice a week, providing on-site medical care, counseling, prescriptions and referrals. At times, HOTT has done outreach work near the Christopher St. Pier, although the van also spends time Uptown and in Queens.
For many of the teens who connect with the outreach van, HOTT represents their only access to medical attention. Due to frequently intolerant family members and foster and group homes that are often unfriendly environments, a disproportionate percentage — 40 percent — of homeless youth in New York City are L.G.B.T. The result, as Christian put it, is that “they just don’t have the opportunity to seek medical care.”
Although HOTT asks for a small payment for its services, the money is only “symbolic,” according to Christian, and “nobody’s turned away.” The center is sustained by government funds and private donations.
“I think that they would be going to emergency rooms, or dealing with things when they become a crisis” if it weren’t for HOTT, Christian said of the homeless and street-involved youth that comprise a big part of the program’s patients. She also noted that the large number of patients discovering that they are H.I.V. positive at HOTT (7 percent of their patients have the virus) suggests that many youth would not know their statuses otherwise. Callen-Lorde as a whole diagnoses more patients with H.I.V. than any other institution in the city, according to Christian.
Because of confidentiality issues, The Villager was unable to speak to any of HOTT’s patients. The sheer number of patients in the program, though, attests to its success.
From her considerable experience working with L.G.B.T. youth, Christian says that she, too, recognizes the power of HOTT.
“I have a background in social work; I’ve worked with L.G.B.T. homeless young people for about nine years now,” she said. “Healthcare is one of those concrete services where you can actually see the result — and I think HOTT’s approach of really valuing the social work aspect to a holistic approach of care is what draws me to it.”