January 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Starting the conversation

Whitman-Walker's June Crenshaw and Don Blanchon at a previous event. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health is planning a series of LGBT-specific town hall-style events this year called Community Conversations. The first, slated for Thursday at the Clinic’s Elizabeth Taylor Center (1701 14th Street, NW), is dubbed “New Year, New Start: Substance Abuse.”

“Throughout our history, Whitman-Walker has worked to meet the unique health care needs of the LGBT community,” Don Blanchon, the Clinic’s executive director, said in a statement. “One of our goals … is to empower participants with the knowledge and resources to improve not only their health but the health of the family, friends and loved ones around them.”

Chip Lewis, the Clinic’s deputy director of communications, says the series was Blanchon’s idea and that he wanted “a mechanism to build this dialogue between Whitman-Walker and the community.” Chris Dyer, an LGBT liaison in former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration, suggested the format.

Lewis says the staff hopes the series is a two-way street.

“It’s an opportunity to start a dialogue with the community about health issues it faces,” he says. “It can help us present the LGBT health issues that we service but we also want to hear from them and find out what they’re seeing and hearing about. It’s an opportunity for a dialogue for Whitman-Walker and the larger LGBT community as a whole.”

Thursday’s panelists are treatment advocate Jimmy Garza, addictions counselor Christina Oseth and nightlife impresario Ed Bailey. Moderator Josh Reilly is manager of addiction treatment programs for Whitman-Walker. The discussion starts at 7 p.m. It’s free and open to the pubic and those interested in attending will be directed to the meeting room from the front lobby.

Nine conversations are planned. A Feb. 23 discussion on “healthier hookups” will also be at the Elizabeth Taylor Center. On March 29, “Why Safe Sex Matters” will be held at the True Reformer Building and on April 30, “Aging and the LGBT Community” will be at the D.C. Center. Dates and locations are still being set for the remaining installments. Topics slated include “Women’s Health,” “Take Pride in Your Health,” “HIV Testing,” “I’m a Survivor: Living Long Term With HIV” and “Transgender Health.” Go to whitman-walker.org for more information. The Blade will also run details as they are announced.

Lewis says things are going well for the Clinic overall and he expects that it will soon be announced that 2011 was another successful year. It’s now operating “in the black” (there was a half-million-dollar surplus in 2010 Lewis says) after finishing 2007 and 2008 millions in the hole. The numbers for 2009 found the Clinic running a $750,000 deficit. Revenue sources have changed and Medicare, Medicaid and pharmacy sales have provided a more stable source of revenue, he says.

But misconceptions abound about the Clinic, Lewis says. A broadening of services has “de-gayed” the Clinic, some critics have claimed, but Lewis says a higher percentage of those seeking services today self-identity as LGBT than a few years ago (it’s about half, he says).

“You can come here for mental health, support groups, primary care, gynecological care — there was a sense for a long time that this was just where you went if you were facing HIV and AIDS and that’s never really been the case,” Lewis says. “[These Conversations] are another opportunity for us to get across to people that we offer a lot of health services.”

The Community Conversations are expected to last between one and two hours depending on the number of questions and comments.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

1 Comment
  • Don't fund this organization

    Gee, the Clinic fired me a long time ago, for no legitimate reason, and owing me money. I wonder if it will now apologize and pay me what it still owes me?

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