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Originally published in Lavender Magazine, April 2021
Being a teen today comes with different pressures than it did 10 years ago.
Just ask the staff of Annex Teen Clinic, a Robbinsdale-based nonprofit where young people of all genders and sexualities can receive sex-positive, affirming, sexual healthcare.
“I think teens and young adults today are dealing with a lot more stress related to racism, misogynoir, transphobia, homophobia, the external push to work more hours for less pay, unstable housing, homelessness, and the pressure to always be ‘on’,” said Andre Le Blanc, the Director of Clinical Services & Operations for Annex Teen Clinic.
Technology can also play a big role in a teen’s life. Hannah Mikhelson is a Health Mentor and Sexuality Educator.
“Being in the schools, I see more pressures when it comes to engaging virtually through social media,” Mikhelson said. “Specifically, I have a lot of conversations with youth around understanding boundaries virtually with their friends and partner(s), sharing passwords, sexy photos, etc. The key for most youth is learning about their boundaries, gaining confidence to assert them, and speaking out or telling a trusted adult about any against bullying that happens online.”
Le Blanc added, “With everything going on in the world and in young people’s lives, sexual and reproductive health can often fall to the backburner. I think this makes the work that we do, and the space that we provide, even more important.”
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Annex Teen Clinic offers pregnancy testing, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), rapid HIV and syphilis testing, PrEP prescriptions, genital exams, and more. Services are tailored to a patient’s sexual practices and their body, and are provided by registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners (NPs), and physicians (MDs). They focus on teens and young adults 25 years of age and younger.
Because the Annex is a specialty clinic focusing on a narrow range of sexual health care services, all of their clinical services are protected by the Minors’ Consent Law. This means a minor needs to provide written consent to release information to another person, including a parent. Parents and guardians are welcome to attend appointments.
According to Annex Teen Clinic Executive Director Brian Russ, services are provided on a sliding scale based on income, although no one is turned away due to an inability to pay. Annex has contracts with the Minnesota Department of Health and Hennepin County to help subsidize care.
Founded in 1971 as a joint effort of Holy Nativity Lutheran Church and St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church, Annex Teen Clinic formed in response to young people’s concerns about a lack of quality sexual health services.
‘What young people want’
In addition to clinic services, Annex Teen Clinic educates out in the community, sharing factual, age-appropriate messages around sexuality, sexual health and wellness.
Elicia, a 10th grader, is a member of the Annex Teen Clinic’s Health Education and Advocacy Team, or HEAT. Elicia described HEAT like an internship.
“[Annex] teaches you and a bunch of peers about sexual health, healthy and unhealthy relationships,” she said. “We make presentations to teach other people what we learned about in the group.”
Elicia realizes this information is important for her and her peers.
“Nowadays most people aren’t educated about sexual health and what are healthy relationships due to the internet and what other people tell us. Annex leaders tell us how to have healthy relationships and how to stay away from predators. Most schools aren’t teaching that stuff.”
And you’ll see Elicia as a member of HEAT next school year.
“I’ve been a part of it for this school year and would 100% apply for it again, even if we learned the same things,” she said.
Feedback from students like Elicia is what Health Mentor Hannah Mikhelson wants to hear.
“Annex is a place for young people and young adults, guided by what young people want and need, rather than just assuming what young people need.”
Supporting LGBTQ young adults
As part of their education initiatives, Annex Teen Clinic helps LGBTQ young adults, along with allies, become advocates for the community. The nonprofit provides after school programming in several school districts, including a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), at one high school.
Reflecting on these GSA members, Mikhelson said, “These teenagers are amazing activists. They currently are working on more inclusive bathroom signs, and will be presenting them to their school administration for approval to post throughout their sixth through 12th grade school buildings.”
The Annex not only educates students. Parents, caregivers, and other professionals who serve LGBTQ+ youth are educated around sexual orientation and gender identity.
Knowledge is power
“Every single individual teenager is the expert of their own experience,” Mikhelson said. “It is on us as adults to provide them the tools, skills, and information they need to make informed decisions around their sexual health and wellness.”
Take this analogy, presented by Mikhelson. “It is like this: we teach kids to look both ways before they cross a street long before they will need to use that skill on their own. Same goes with sexual health and wellness. If we teach these skills before they will act on them, they will be better prepared to handle anything that comes their way. Easy as that.”
And you can help teach these skills by supporting the Annex.
“People can support the Annex by encouraging community leaders to support policy that advances reproductive justice and sexual health,” said Executive Director Brian Russ. “People can also support us by providing financial support for the work we do. Individual donors make a huge impact on our ability to provide the sexuality education and support services that young people are asking for.”
The Annex is celebrating its 50th anniversary in September 2021, and is planning fun events to celebrate that milestone.
To learn more about their 50th anniversary celebrations, to make an appointment, or to donate to Annex Teen Clinic, visit their website at www.annexteenclinic.org.
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