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|Health: Health Initiative strives to meet LGBT Georgia’s needs|
|Written by Ryan Watkins|
|Friday, 04 January 2013 00:00|
At its annual Fall Garden Party in September 2011, the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative announced it would expand its mission to encompass all of the community — becoming The Health Initiative, “Georgia’s voice for LGBTQ health.”
In the year since its re-branding and expansion, the biggest change has been the number of individuals that utilize Health Initiative’s services, said Executive Director Linda Ellis.
“The most significant shift has been the overwhelming expansion in the number and types of people who are accessing our services, particularly the health fund,” Ellis said. “We’re seeing an increase in trans individuals and gay men who access the fund. That’s a shift for us and that’s exactly what we wanted to happen.”
Originally founded in 1996 by Dennie Doucher, Sherry Hale and Linda McGehee as the Atlanta Lesbian Cancer Initiative, the organization has gone through a series of changes in its 17-year history, but its focus has always centered around health and wellness.
“What we are trying to do, as much as possible, is keep people as individuals tied into our communities wherever we’re connected. We’re not trying to reinvent programming, we’re trying to provide access to care,” Ellis said.
In addition to offering referrals and access to the health fund, the Health Initiative also regularly hosts programming specific to LGBT needs at the Rush Center throughout each month.
Increased programming and health fairs
As it moves into 2013, the Health Initiative will continue to offer a series of health and wellness programming ranging from domestic violence support to weight loss and elder services. (See sidebar for a complete list of the Health Initiative’s programs)
The organization also hosts a series of health fairs throughout the year, which Ellis said may be scaled back in size, but held more frequently, in 2013.
“They’ll be smaller, but there will be more of them,” Ellis said of the organization’s plans for fairs in the New Year.
Expect to see the Health Initiative at more LGBT events across the state, including some of the state’s largest Pride festivals outside of Atlanta.
“We’re trying to partner with each of the Pride organizations around the state,” Ellis said. “We want to go in and offer a community training for healthcare providers for that area and a corresponding health fair.”
The idea is that the Health Initiative can work with local organizations and care providers to create a network of LGBT-friendly (and properly trained) medical professionals around the state.
The biggest challenge, Ellis said, of reaching out to LGBT individuals regarding their health is crafting a message that will received by people who may have spent time outside of the traditional healthcare system.
“If you don’t see yourself in the health message, you’re not as likely to adopt it, particularly for younger people,” Ellis said. “We have to come up with a way to help, whether it’s to do more push ups or shifting your diet. We have to come up with ways to make that a priority as a community.”
Top photo: The Fall Garden Party is the largest fundraiser for the Health Initiative, which provides information and services to LGBT Georgians. (by Dyana Bagby)
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