I think I look too hard for love.
Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic. Maybe I just long to have something — or someone — who could pick up the trail of pieces I have left and rearrange them in a way I am unable to do so myself.
Upon moving to New York City, my hopes of finding this fix began to feel more palpable. Surely, I surmised, these pieces would effortlessly find a place to fall into. And after weeks of looking, they did. Yet it was not where I expected.
The warm days of July began to fade, and a growing desire to mend this enduring discontent came along with it. An occupation of the mind with something different, I concluded, would be the best remedy.
Hoping to get involved with the thriving gay community of New York, I decided to visit the local Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in an effort to find ways to volunteer within the community. Never before had I been to a major city health center specifically for LGBTQ people. And never before had I truly understood the significance these centers have.
After being greeted by the building’s security guard, his weathered face marked with an enduring smile, I was pointed toward the entrance of the center’s youth program. I took a seat on one of the inviting green sofas that filled the room, waiting for the hall’s two receptionists to call me to speak. Both of them must have been near the same age as me, yet their poise and steadiness with each coming patient before them affirmed their experience.
Despite the uncertainty that painted the faces of those in the room, a sense of belonging and safety filled the air. People from different corners of the country, some escaping tattered homes — some, the brutal grip of poverty — came to one, unified refuge. The woman next to me, gently unwrinkling a thin stack of dollar bills in her rugged hands, explained that she had to wait three extra days to return for her next round of injections for hormone therapy. The boy who walked in before me joked with the young woman behind the desk, with a soft gaze affirming each word that left his mouth.
The tightness in my chest loosened as I began to understand that no internal guard was needed here. I did not have to regulate my words or the way in which those words left my mouth. I had found a place that required no additional explanation of myself, or my experiences, because we all were sewn from the very same thread.
I took a deep breath and peered around the room full of people who bore no physical or familial appearance, but shared something so palpable that it filled the air.
This is what love looked like in its purest form. It wasn’t love by any traditional means — or at least the love I had imagined. But it was a love that I was missing in my life. Now, the pieces I had left behind were not picked back up but replaced with something stronger.
Recently, there have been many days filled with hopelessness from what I see in the news, on my campus or even in my own home. While there is a crucial duty to maintain dialogue among all of us to bridge these seemingly irreconcilable differences, there remains a need for spaces where people from all walks of life can come together to heal and grow. Centers like Callen-Lorde remain crucial for such a reality. These centers do not just provide a space for people who have been kicked out of their homes or cast aside by society. They provide vital medical care to individuals who would otherwise often not have access to such resources. Some people are without such proper care due to discrimination — others due to homelessness, a lack of financial means or limited English proficiency. In fact, in the case of community health centers in general, over 70 percent of patients seen have incomes below the federal poverty level. These centers have medical professionals trained to specifically handle LGBT-related health issues. There are many types of treatments and services, such as hormone therapy and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), that many physicians may not be familiar with.
Almost one in 10 LGBTQ people have said that a health care provider has refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, and three in 10 transgender individuals experienced the same treatment due to their actual or perceived gender identity. Such instances have taken place in our own state of Michigan, and are often even protected under the law. For example, in Roseville, a pediatrician refused care to an infant because she had same-sex parents. Beyond our own state, a transgender 14-year-old, admitted to a San Diego hospital for attempting to commit suicide, was continuously misgendered and discharged early from the hospital staff. Upon release, he killed himself. These community centers are not just helpful, they are crucial to closing some of the many disparities afflicting our health care system.
My time in New York allowed me to see these integral spaces in our country firsthand. Callen-Lorde is an oasis for people who have been set aside because of who they love or the way they were born to exist in a place — no matter how temporary — without judgment.
Through expansion and greater awareness of these centers, it is that very love and support that I hope to further on campus, and beyond, in the future.
Consider donating to these LGBTQ+ health centers:
Alex Kubie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.