Give Me The Mike

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80% of LGBTQ elders fear their healthcare providers will discriminate against them

Rainbow Health trains senior care providers and provides additional services to the LGBTQ community, including free PrEP prescriptions.

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Originally published in Lavender Magazine, June 2021

LGBTQ people face significant health barriers.

Faith Bryan moved from California to Minnesota in 2015. She’d just retired and was on medical assistance from the State of Minnesota to go with her Medicare coverage. Bryan’s insurance denied a request for facial feminization surgery, or FFS.

“I was denied FFS despite Department of Human Services (DHS) policy that said it would follow the guidelines set by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) that required each case to be evaluated on its own merits, a case-by-case review, rather than a blanket denial because something was not covered under most circumstances,” Bryan said.

While out for dinner, Bryan met Phil Duran, who is now Rainbow Health’s Director of Advocacy and Research. Duran helped her out.

“Phil took DHS to task,” Bryan recalled. “We won that appeal, and in the process, established a precedent for other trans folks in Minnesota to use in getting their medically necessary procedures.”

“Rainbow Health Minnesota is a vital organization for all of our state’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer citizens,” Bryan said.

The name Rainbow Health might sound new to you, but its services are the same. The nonprofit rebranded from JustUs Health this spring. Their origins date back to 1983, first supporting individuals diagnosed with HIV AIDS.

“Rainbow Health exists to end HIV and health disparities for LGBTQ people, by working for greater health equity,” said Rainbow Health CEO Jeremy Hanson Willis. “Every LGBTQ person in Minnesota should be able to go to any clinic, any hospital, any treatment center, and receive quality care that supports who they are as a whole person.”

Services for the Transgender community are a focus at Rainbow Health.

“Our website has an LGBTQ health care provider directory where Trans and Nonbinary people can find supportive health care providers in Minnesota,” Hanson Willis noted. “Many of our mental health therapists are Trans or Nonbinary or have deep experience providing therapy for Trans and Nonbinary folks that is trauma-informed, sex-positive, and based in harm-reduction.”

Founded in 1983 as the Minnesota AIDS Project, Rainbow Health continues to provide services to individuals with HIV AIDS, and staffs an AIDSLine, which can be reached at 612-373-2437. Photo courtesy Rainbow Health.

The therapist is in

Tamara Wittrock is a clinical therapist for Rainbow Health.

“I have the privilege of getting to know and see people who have never felt seen through a therapeutic and intimate framework,” Wittrock said. “There’s a push and pull between fear and excitement that happens as I watch people come to the realization that everything they ever needed to heal was always inside of them. It is an awesome gift and responsibility to walk alongside people who have experienced adversity, trauma and unimaginable pain.”

As part of its services, Rainbow Health offers individual, group, relationship, and family therapy for LGBTQ people, those living with HIV, and people from communities who face barriers, including substance-using individuals and communities of color.

“I’ve discovered that there are disparities within disparities unique to BIPOC individuals,” Wittrock said. “There is the collective issue of historic trauma and for many of us (I say that as a person of color). We’ve learned to live as different versions of ourselves just to meet our basic needs. People of color have to navigate, analyze, and plan every aspect of our existence and most of the time that’s just to go to the grocery store. Some of these survival techniques are passed down from generation to generation before we realize some of the negative cognitions that flood our brains.”

“People of color in the LGBTQIA community not only are dealing with racism and bigotry, but have the additional stigma of being ‘different’ in a way that often shuns them from the only family and community that has given them any sense of security,” Wittrock added.

When it comes to mental wellness, Wittrock offers perspective.

“I talk to so many individuals who are just waiting for this big moment where everything comes together and ‘they’ve made it’,” Wittrock said. “Through my own journey of mental healing and wellness I learned that no one has ‘arrived’, but that we are arriving every day. We’re created to grow every day through our triumphs and through our pain and failures growing and expanding…learning how to bend without breaking, kind of like a palm tree. It is through learning this that I coined the term mental wellness.”


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Serving the entire community

Beyond therapy, Rainbow Health offers a wide array of services, with the bulk of them free of charge. That includes Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) prescriptions, a medication for people who do not have HIV to prevent contracting HIV.

“We just launched a partnership with Q-Care Tele-health and Avita Pharmacy to provide PrEP for free,” CEO Hanson Willis said. “Folks can get online doctor visits, at-home labs, PrEP prescribed online and delivered to your door…all free. We’re helping make this life-saving, 99.9% effective HIV prevention much more available to our community.”

“Starting last December, we partnered with the MN Department of Health to provide a LGBTQ/HIV-informed COVID hotline,” Hanson Willis added. “Our trained staff on the Rainbow Health COVID-Line answer questions about COVID-19 and connect people directly to testing, vaccines, or financial resources.” To utilize that service, call 612-254-0116.

Candice Wiggins of the WNBA’s New York Liberty visits the Minnesota AIDS Project (now Rainbow Health) and takes an HIV test. Photo by David Sherman Photography.

Rainbow Health is dedicated to LGBTQ seniors

“80% of LGBTQ elders fear that their healthcare providers will discriminate against them if they’re out,” Hanson Willis said. “With 48,000 LGBTQ seniors in Minnesota, that’s a lot of people not getting the respect and dignity they deserve. We’ve been hard at work bringing energy and urgency to this effort by training senior care providers, convening LGBTQ elders, advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQ elders in public policy, and researching the needs of this important and growing population.”

Rainbow Health is looking for individuals to participate in LGBTQ research. You can also join their email list, donate, and follow them on social media to stay connected. Check out their website to learn more.


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