This LGBTQ health center is changing lives
Callen-Lorde
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As a transgender woman, Wanda Batista has long known the pain of receiving inadequate and non-affirming medical care. "Every doctor I went to would freak out," Batista says. "They didn't know what to do with me." Sometimes, she says, doctors would quickly transfer her case to another medical provider — but her new doctor would have no more knowledge or experience working with transgender clients than the last. And so the cycle continued. Batista would ask for help and be met with question marks. She'd have to buy her hormone treatments on the black market, putting her life in danger. "You wouldn't even know what you were getting back then," she says.

Batista's experience is infuriating, but sadly by no means unique. Recent research shows that the biggest barrier transgender people face when receiving healthcare is the lack of providers who understand the unique needs this population faces. This, along with other barriers including discrimination and income inequality, makes it harder for transgender people to access quality care. It's important that all members of the LGBTQ+ community receive quality, compassionate care from providers who affirm and understand their patients' experiences.


Batista found that care at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a federally-qualified health center (FQHC) in New York City. Such centers are "safety nets to provide primary medical care in medically underserved areas or to medically underserved communities," explains Callen-Lorde's Executive Director, Wendy Stark. Though there are 1,000 such centers across America, Callen-Lorde is unique in that it specializes in providing clinically and culturally competent care to LGBTQ+ communities who are not bound by a geographic area, Stark says. People travel from all five of New York City's boroughs and even from other states to utilize Callen-Lorde's culturally competent services. And they get the best possible healthcare regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.

"There's still a lack of knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ+ health issues – particularly around trans health – in the medical community," Stark says. "LGBTQ+ health is not required in medical school, and there is often very little, if any, training. In many cases, it's the patient educating the provider on their health needs, whether it be hormones, or interventions like PrEP. We do our part by providing hundreds of competency and sensitivity trainings at other healthcare facilities and to clinicians-in-training, but it barely scratches the surface when you look at the country as a whole."

Photo courtesy Wanda Batista

Callen-Lorde's mission isn't just to offer medical care. "The staff at the center also work to build trust with patients who have been discriminated against or experienced stigma or trauma, especially in medical settings," Stark says. One of the biggest challenges the center faces is working with LGBTQ+ youth who have been ostracized from their families of origin and have deep mistrust of institutions, medical and otherwise. "But on the other side of that coin," Stark says, "is that Callen-Lorde builds lasting trust and community while empowering patients to invest in their health and wellness."

For Wanda Batista, the center provided more than just compassionate and empowering care. It offered her the hope and tools she needed to envision and create a new way of life for herself. During her first visit, Batista says, a doctor told her that she could be connected to a transgender provider who understood what she was going through — that she could receive services without fear of being judged or misgendered.

"It was like a breath of fresh air," Batista says. "You dealt with people that had encountered your situation. They knew about everything that you had gone through. They knew where to lead you, and if they didn't, they'd find it for you."

Callen-Lorde, Batista says, became a safe haven for her. Before, she had felt like she was all alone. "Before, I really didn't have anywhere to go, except go to a clinic, get tested. That's about all I knew," Batista says. "I didn't know I needed a liver test. Or that I needed to check my blood work. That I needed to make sure that all these hormones I'm taking are actually beneficial to me and for my body."

Today, Batista is at a point in her life that she couldn't have imagined years ago. Not only is she a successful businesswoman, but she is vice chair on the community board at Callen-Lorde. And she works to spread awareness of the center's services every day. "I let people know that we're here to help you in any shape, way or form," Batista says. "There's not a question Callen-Lorde won't find an answer to."

Batista's trajectory is emblematic of the work that Callen-Lorde does. Carl Gaines also came to Callen-Lorde as a client around 2002. He had only recently moved to New York City after being diagnosed with HIV. Like many young people who move to the city, he knew he needed healthcare as soon as possible, but he hadn't lined up a job and didn't have insurance. And he couldn't focus on other areas of his life — relationships, friendships, employment — until he knew that his health was in good hands.

Gaines knew he was in the right place the moment he walked through the door. He could tell this was a place where he'd be accepted and where staff would go above and beyond to ensure he had all the tools he needed to keep his health in top shape. "To sit in the waiting room and see the wide spectrum of other clients, that definitely helped instill a sense of community and belonging," he says. "That was really important to me, particularly in the beginning."

Today, Gaines still visits Callen-Lorde for his medical care. He also sits on the center's board of directors. As part of the communications team at Capital One, Gaines is also a driving force behind the partnership between the financial institution and the health center.

"Capital One believes in bringing your whole self to work," Gaines says, "so part of the reason that I feel comfortable talking about my experiences at Callen-Lorde is because I know that I'll be supported within my work community. We also believe in supporting our community, and access to healthcare is a key component of any thriving community."

Capital One has made donations and contributions to Callen-Lorde in honor of Pride Month and in support of the health center's important work. Capital One promotes the center's life-saving work through volunteer activities that give employees the opportunity to learn more about that work firsthand. They sponsored events like Callen-Lorde's Rainbow Run, a virtual 5k this past May that encouraged associates to get out and exercise for a good cause.

For the seventeenth consecutive year, Capital One has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Corporate Equality Index (CEI), designating them as one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality. Their "Out Front" Business Resource Group enables associates to show up for the LGTBTQ+ community in meaningful ways like through volunteer events and educational opportunities, supporting LGBTQ+ owned business and nonprofits that serve the community.

"So many patients tell us 'I don't know where I'd be without you,'" Wendy Stark, Callen-Lorde's Executive Director, says. "We need to be there for them, and people like them who have nowhere else to turn. We made a commitment to our communities to be there when they need us, where they need us."

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."