Angie Magaña has been faithfully working a Saturday shift at the Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program for lesbian and bi women for nearly a year now.
“I just want more people to know that we’re here and that we have all these resources available for them,” said Magaña. “We really are trying to raise awareness that we have this special, safe place for women. The Center gives amazing health care. But it’s been frustrating to go out into the community and hear people say, ‘I can go there if I’m a woman?’”
The Center is one of the few Federally Qualified Health Centers with providers who specialize in primary care for LGBT people and people living with HIV.
On Saturdays, the program at the Center’s McDonald/Wright location offers primary health care, individual therapy, crisis counseling, 12-step substance abuse support, a sexual abuse survivor group and even a yoga and meditation class. Mental health services are also available to everyone and can be free for those who live or work in West Hollywood.
“It’s a different energy, a calm and easy energy,” explained Magaña. “We’re very non-judgmental, we’re very sex positive and body positive. This is not a place where you’re going to come in and feel shame. We very much meet people where they are and work with them to get to their health goals.”
Women, particularly lesbians and bisexual people, are far less likely to visit the doctor or access health services. And when they do, they do not feel they can be open about their sexual orientation, according to Magaña.
“We know that who you are and how you behave sexually really does affect your health. It makes a big difference,” she said. “Lesbian and bisexual women have been marginalized. They often feel like if they disclose their sexuality to their health care provider they will somehow be treated differently, be judged, be dismissed. We hear stories like that all the time.”
“This is not just about a pap smear.”
Magaña and a small group of her colleagues at the Center have made it their mission to make more women aware of the full range of primary care services offered at the Center.
They meet every Tuesday to strategize about this passion project and take the time do things like attend health fairs and other events to spread the word.
“This is important to us,” said Amy Kane, the Center’s manager of clinical programs. “There’s no one offering this kind of comprehensive women’s care to the LGBT community. We even came up with an intake form for Saturdays that is more focused on women’s issues than a regular intake form. This is not just about a pap smear.”
Maria Melo, the Center’s policy and operations manager, points out that providing health services for women are more important than ever given the current political climate.
“We are creating more space for our community while the Trump administration is trying to take some from us,” said Melo. “We are creating this very unique spot to provide services that doesn’t exist anywhere else and creating a unique space to protect health services as well.”
Services Can Be Life-Changing
When Joan Kaempfer was released from prison more than three years ago, she was not in the best of health. She had endured two back surgeries during her 13-year incarceration, had Hepatitis C, and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Her partner, Zondre Johnson, got her connected with the Center and she began to rebuild her health with the help of Magaña.
“I never felt judged, I felt embraced,” said Kaempfer, 54. “It’s been the best experience of my life, the best treatment of my life. It’s been life-saving.”
Kaempfer has benefitted from the wrap-around care approach that the program offers. This involves addressing the whole person, including the causes of stress in their lives that might manifest physical symptoms.
Women who finish a medical exam may leave with a referral to other Center staff for legal support, mental health care, affordable housing opportunities and others services.
“If you are constantly looking for a place to stay or living on the streets, we help find housing for people,” explained Magaña. “We work with legal on things like restraining orders and look for signs of emotional abuse.
“So much of our everyday stress comes out in our bodies,” she added. “If your back or stomach is bothering you, let’s talk about what else is going on. So many things have a psychological component so we work very closely with the Center’s mental health department.”
The Center accepts most insurance plans and can help people who are uninsured or underinsured qualify for assistance programs.
Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Mental Health Services are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) This is in addition to the weekday hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.