Fenway Health serves LGBTQ+ students amidst the pandemic

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Harriet Rovniak

Even during a pandemic, Fenway Health provides comprehensive care for many college students, LGBTQ+ community members and homeless youth.

Gabrielle Hernandez, news correspondent

Content warning: discussion of suicidal thoughts.

Editor’s note: The Huntington News wants students to know Northeastern University and elsewhere provide mental health resources for students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an irreversible toll on many communities, especially LGBTQ+ youth. People with non-conforming gender identities and sexualities have faced adversity in healthcare systems for decades — Fenway Health is trying to change that, even during a pandemic. 

A poll of just under 3000 UK students conducted by Just Like Us, an educational charity for LGBTQ+ young people, found that 55% of LGBTQ+ respondents worried about their mental health on a daily basis during the early months of the pandemic. Individuals in this community are already at a high risk — a 2016 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, demonstrated that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual youth in the last year.

During the pandemic, students had to leave their universities and high schools, separating many LGBTQ+ youth from their support networks and forcing them to return to their childhood homes.

“It was very isolating,” said Luc, a non-binary fifth-year psychology and linguistics combined major. At Northeastern and in Boston, Luc surrounded themself with queer friends and a queer community. After the pandemic, they were surrounded by straight people — specifically, their parents. Like Luc, many LGBTQ+ students found themselves lost without the support of the friends and community they had at college.

Because of these alarming statistics, heightened by the conditions of the pandemic, organizations like Fenway Health have stepped forward to serve the LGBTQ+ community. Fenway Health is a medical clinic formed in 1971 with the mission of caring for the people in the Fenway neighborhood, the LGBTQ+ community and people living with HIV and AIDS. In the beginning, they served as a clinic for blood pressure checks and STD screenings. 

Now, since growing their organization over the last 50 years, they offer family medical, behavioral health, dental and eye care services. On top of that, they are a research and educational institute for understanding disparities in health care, especially within LGBTQ+ communities. They provide services to homeless youth and those struggling with substance abuse, sex work and street violence.  They have achieved their goal of serving the community by being an open and accessible space for all people.

For college students specifically, Fenway Health provides an array of services. 

“Like other populations, college students have a broad range of health care needs and Fenway [Health] works hard to address those for our college-age patients,” wrote Chris Viverios, director of communications at Fenway Health, in an email to The News. “Sexual health services, including contraception counseling, addiction recovery & wellness, and STI screenings, can be important in some cases, as well as general healthcare, dental, and eye care.” 

The Northeastern University Student Health Plan, or NUSHP, covers Fenway Health, which is not only of value to all students, but specifically provides an accessible and safe health care location for LGBTQ+ students.

Luc was searching for a new doctor in Boston days before the city and Northeastern shutdown, and they prioritized finding a doctor’s office they would be comfortable in.  

“I wanted to make sure I was going somewhere that I knew was going to be really trans-friendly and that I would have an opportunity to talk about potential hormone therapies,” Luc said, seeking out Fenway Health for its reputation. But days later, Luc had to leave Boston for home in the Midwest and canceled their scheduled in-person appointment.

At the onset of the pandemic, Fenway Health had to make some quick changes, just like institutions across the world.

“Patients still need the same care and services as before the pandemic, but now there is the added issue of stress and isolation affecting many people,” Viverios wrote. “Initially, we had to scale back in-person services so we quickly made the pivot to telehealth.” 

The switch to telehealth proved advantageous for Fenway Health — they now offer care to patients in 27 states outside of Massachusetts. As many Boston healthcare organizations received the proper PPE and supplies to reopen, Fenway Health restored on-site services, but many patients were still being seen through telehealth services. 

Their quick turnaround during the pandemic was necessary — their services and reputation are unique in a country where discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in healthcare is still alive and well.

Many recently inaugurated state legislators have proposed anti-trans health care bills that include punishing doctors with fines and jail time for making “best practice,” transition-related suggestions to transgender youth. On March 3, the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act” passed in the Alabama state Senate by a landslide, prohibiting gender-affirming treatments for trans youth and criminalizing teachers that do not disclose to parents if their child is considering a gender identity change.

Fenway Health exists in opposition to these restrictive healthcare measures. On Twitter, they promote transgender health care and legislation that seeks to support the LGBTQ+ community, rather than restrict and degrade it. In March, state representatives in Massachusetts filed a bill, “An Act Relative to HIV Prevention Access for Young Adults.” If passed, it would allow healthcare providers to prescribe Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that reduces the risk of HIV infection, as well as treatment for HIV to minors without parental consent. Fenway Health endorsed this legislation aligning with their mission of providing healthcare to LGBTQ+ youth. 

“Knowing about a place like Fenway Health and the existence of a place like Fenway Health is really cool and exciting to me because I’ve been trying to find trans-friendly healthcare providers in the Midwest and it has not been going well,” Luc said. “I’ve been looking for like six months.”

Fenway Health’s motto, “Healthcare is a Right, Not a Privilege,” echos their dedication to the marginalized LGBTQ+ community, pandemic or not.