Many social services throughout the state are continuing their work in whatever way they can during social distancing, including those helping the LGBTQ+ community.
For Columbus’ Kaleidoscope Youth Center, the changes brought on by school closures and stay-at-home orders weren’t unexpected, and through the use of social media, they’ve been able to stay connected in many ways with the queer youth of the state.
“One thing about our youth that I really appreciate is how in-tune they are to issues of the day,” said Erin Upchurch, executive director of Kaleidoscope. “So we’ve had conversations and they understand that we’ve had to change things for their health.”
The youth center has been working since March to make sure that the regulars to their center know they can still reach out. When the schools closed, Upchurch said the organization asked for donations of supplies and money to help the center cover the needs of students outside of school. Within 24 hours, they had almost $9,000, and an Amazon wishlist full of supplies.
After they decreased their hours, they prepared to-go bags with resources and personal care items, along with the hot to-go meal they typically provide during the day at their facility.
The staff still conducts case management and housing assistance, and education and trainings continue in the virtual space now. When that’s not possible, the center’s staff are still staying in contact.
“We’ve seen a decrease in some that are regulars, understanding that there are barriers like access to the internet,” Upchurch said. “But we are still reaching out to them if we can just to check in.”
Like many other medical facilities in the state, Equitas Health has moved what they can to telehealth and telecounseling services, but they plan to keep some things open that they see as necessary.
Support groups are being moved to virtual platforms or cancelled through May, but name and gender change legal clinics are going on via video conference, along with mental health counseling and well visits. The pharmacy is now authorized to deliver, but it remains open for pick up prescriptions.
Their HIV case management and housing program has been adapted to keep people separated, despite the need for housing inspections and face-to-face meetings as part of it.
“We were very lucky that our funders, in the middle of the crisis, agreed and said ‘yes, do what you need to do,’” said Peggy Anderson, Chief Operating Officer of Equitas.
The Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), an intimate partner violence and survivor advocacy program for the LGBTQ community, has transitioned to virtual meetings and resources, but still exists for those that need it.
“What we want to do is to say there are some options,” Anderson said. “If you need links to a shelter, we can get that, we can show people how to clear your browser, or how to get out if they want to do that.”
One service the organization considers a priority to keep open is HIV/STI testing, which is happening by appointment in Clintonville and for drop-in services in Dayton.
“If folks have been exposed and they’re near our medical centers without signs and symptoms of COVID, we’re still going to treat them for STIs because we still feel very strongly about that,” Anderson said.
She said the facilities have been testing 40 people a week, even while avoiding gathering the patients in waiting rooms.
The health system had built an infrastructure for telehealth in January with their telePrEP program, which helped those wanting resources about HIV prevention, and a prescription drug that is used to prevent HIV before exposure.
Equitas also has SafePoint, a needle exchange program made for anyone who needs it, that remains open, and has served 227 people in one week, according to Anderson.
“We’re seeing a lot of overdose death surges in Columbus, so we felt as long as we could stay open, we’re going to do that,” Anderson said.
For LGBTQ individuals who don’t live in a supportive home, staying at home can be an added stressor to an already tense public health situation. In the ways that they can, organizations are providing the resources needed to give that support.
“The idea of living in a home that doesn’t always feel safe or affirming isn’t new for some of them,” Upchurch said. “So our young people have built a community outside of that.”
Equitas staff have been making more than 150 trips to food pantries for patients that need it, and are also focused on bringing support.
“This is a time where all of our realities are changed, but we just have to reach out and support one another where we can,” Anderson said.