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LGBTs among leaders at HealthConnect One
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Community health and early parenting non-profit organization HealthConnect One features a culturally diverse staff, the majority of whom are women, that includes both longtime advocates RoiAnn Phillips, a lesbian who is also a mother, and Gilberto "Gil" Zamora, who is gay.

Although HealthConnect One is not an LGBTQ-focused agency, both Phillips and Zamora are working to incorporate the LGBTQ community's concerns within the structure of everything the organization does.

Phillips was recently named communications director, for which her primary role is to set and implement branding and content strategies. She previously worked as the organization's communications manager ( since 2011 ) where she implemented those strategies. Phillips said both roles are rewarding, however, she enjoys the challenges that being a director brings to her work.

When asked to describe HealthConnect One to outsiders Phillips said, "The organization facilitates community-led change to build equitable support for families during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early parenting. We engage community leaders on the ground ... and work with them to assess their community's strengths.

"We play the role of consultant and facilitator, drawing on our experience in [more than] 50 communities over 30 years to help them determine how they might leverage those strengths to support their families. This might include developing a community health worker program, training hospital personnel, working to ban formula from the care packages hospitals give to new moms, organizing to get people of color at decision-making tables or gathering information on breastfeeding and/or birth practices to influence policymakers."

Phillips previously worked at Lambda Legal as an outreach associate; she designed and supported marriage equality and student safety advocacy efforts in the Midwest among other duties. She left Lambda Legal to adopt her now-13-year-old daughter.

"For a good couple of years, my little girl and I spent our time at the library, park, pool, music class, etc., but then my partner at the time moved from a corporate job into real estate and I needed a part-time job while she got her business going," said Phillips. "A contact through my work with Lambda Legal recommended HealthConnect One."

Phillips has another 26-year-old daughter, who also recently became a mother, through a marriage that ended last year. Both her large extended family—a result of her parents' divorce and remarriages—and close-knit chosen family have made Phillips' notion of family more fluid, she said.

Since coming to HealthConnect One, Phillips has made small strides in highlighting LGBTQ parents and their perspectives into the work they do, including inviting presenters to speak about the needs of LGBTQ families, offering resources for further education and action and making herself available as a behind-the-scenes resource with almost every straight colleague coming to her for advice when community partners, clients and family members come out to them as LGBTQ.

"As a white lesbian working in an organization that serves and engages with predominantly people of color communities, including faith communities—which in my experience have not always been kind to LGBTQ people—this has been the hardest nut for me to crack," said Phillips. "I am first coming from a position of white privilege, and it is important for me to own that before I suggest anything that looks like my own agenda ... and sometimes, I get stalled there.

"I do also support the work and storytelling on LGBTQ families by our partner organizations, and I am thrilled to say that over time, my colleagues have really taken on the shifts in language to be more gender-inclusive."

Phillips said her next goal is to mount a storytelling campaign that specifically highlights LGBTQ families.

One of the major initiatives Phillips coordinated was the national Birth, Breastfeeding and Beyond Conference a number of years ago.

In addition to her other duties, Phillips has also mentored Zamora in a variety of capacities, including as a writer and nonprofit professional.

"She has taught me to listen and appreciate the difficult moments in this profession, and in my personal life, as opportunities for growth," said Zamora. "She always deals with hard moments with a sincere question, 'what can I learn from this?' Her patience and humanity, above all, inspire me. She also has a deep understanding that people come from a various experiences and she never places people in boxes.

"I have tried hard to emulate the way she asks questions, how she draws out the narratives that really connect our agency's broad work towards racial and social equity back to the human experience of it all."

Zamora's role as development manager is focused on fundraising and creating new ways for people to understand the work HealthConnect One does and the challenges communities across the country face.

"My favorite part of development is seeing the light bulb go off when a person realizes the impact of the work," said Zamora. "Those people become our strongest advocates."

Both Phillips and Zamora are from California and made their way to Chicago for different reasons.

Phillips grew up in Santa Clara and graduated from Santa Clara University with a BA in theater arts. She moved to Chicago to explore and for the first year worked and lived with five other people as a Claretian Volunteer on the Southeast Side of the city. Over time, Chicago became her home and she has lived here ever since.

In addition to her nonprofit work, Phillips has also done spoken-word poetry for the past 24 years. Her best long-term gig was with her saxophone-playing friend Camille Rocha, who now lives in Austin, Texas. Phillips explained that they performed for three years at nonprofit fundraisers, street festivals and other locales and were always well-received.

Zamora grew up in the Compton area of Southern California and began his nonprofit career with AmeriCorps at 17. He moved to the Bay Area and this opportunity connected him to various immigrant communities and spurred on his advocacy for early childhood education.

"I worked in the Mission District with Jumpstart while attending San Francisco State University and later in Far East Oakland, directing a family literacy program for the City of Oakland," said Zamora. "I moved to Chicago to pursue my MFA at Roosevelt University. I am currently working on my Masters in Nonprofit Administration."

In addition to his work at HealthConnect One, Zamora supports organizations standing up for issues important to vulnerable communities, especially immigrants and women's health since they are under constant attack by right-wing conservatives.

"The work that ACLU and Planned Parenthood are doing is vital," said Zamora. "I am also incredibly inspired by the amazing work my trans siblings are doing to fight for their human rights, their dignity and for their voices to be heard."

Phillips, Zamora and the rest of the HealthConnect One team will be launching the Birth Equity Leadership Academy for community leaders nationwide to gather and share their talents, skills, resources, challenges, ideas and creativity in service to birth equity,

"From Dec. 5-7, we hosted an orientation for about 30 faculty members and, in March, the Academy will launch with approximately 100 participants," said Phillips.

See for more information .

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