This LGBTQ health center is changing lives
Callen-Lorde
True

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."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

The fasting period of Ramadan observed by Muslims around the world is a both an individual and communal observance. For the individual, it's a time to grow closer to God through sacrifice and detachment from physical desires. For the community, it's a time to gather in joy and fellowship at sunset, breaking bread together after abstaining from food and drink since sunrise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited group gatherings in many countries, putting a damper on the communal part of Ramadan. But for one community in Barcelona, Spain, a different faith has stepped up to make the after sunset meal, known as Iftar, as safe as possible for the Muslim community.

According to Reuters, Father Peio Sanchez, Santa Anna's rector, has opened the doors of the Catholic church's open-air cloisters to local Muslims to use for breaking the Ramadan fast. He sees the different faiths coming together as a symbol of civic coexistence.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of CeraVe
True

"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

Keep Reading Show less