John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County is now home to an LGBT clinic.
The Same-Gender Loving (SGL) Clinic at Stroger opened Feb. 1 and has been providing weekly care for uninsured and underinsured LGBT youth since.
SGL is one of three county-funded clinics serving teens ages 13-24, but it's the first and only to cater specifically to the needs of the LGBT community.
At the clinic, which operates between 1-5 p.m. on Tuesdays, youth can drop in for general health services like those offered at the other two adolescent clinics. They can also meet with a physician or psychiatrist to receive counseling on sexuality, gender identity, hormone therapy, safer sex or a slew of other topics.
Dr. Margo Bell, a senior attending physician in the Division of Adolescent Medicine, who encountered many uninsured LGBT teens while doing outreach work on the South and West Sides, first conceived of the clinic.
With the help of colleague Dr. Lisa Henry-Reid, Bell got the pediatrics department chair to quickly approve the new clinic to supplement the general clinic and the HIV clinics that run on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The new clinic is funded entirely by Cook County and is staffed by three rotating physicians as well as two psychologists and a health educator.
"We're skilled in taking care of this population of adolescent young adults," said Henry-Reid. "We provide very developmentally appropriate care, and we can do that in a setting where you're not going to be judged. We're all about making sure that you're healthy and trying to promote that in whatever way we canby the tests that we do, by the education we provide."
An average of three youth visit the SGL clinic each Tuesday, said Bell. Most, who are over 18 or are with a consenting adult, are seeking mental health services and hormone treatment.
Charlie Person, a 16-year-old transgender female from the North Side, started visiting the clinic about six months ago to learn more about transitioning, which she had only read about on the Internet. A few weeks ago, Person brought her mom, Deborah Person, into the clinic to try to educate her on transgender issues and ask approval for hormone treatment.
Deborah, who knew little about transgender issues before that visit, said the announcement was a little shock to her. It has been accompanied by some conflict over whether her child should be wearing female clothing.
But many conversations with Bell, have made her more sensitive to Charlie's needs, and she will consider hormone therapy for the future.
"The clinic is very informative, very patient, giving you all kind of literature and information, opening questions," said Deborah, who still uses male pronouns for Charlie. "My position is loving him unconditionally, letting him accept who he is and not letting society dictate to him who he is. And that he lives comfortable within himself as well as outside, and be productive in society as he does this transformation."
Charlie is more at ease in the SGL clinic than at a standard clinic, she said.
"It's important because a lot of people don't have anywhere to go to take hormones, or a lot of people don't feel comfortable going anywhere else," said Charlie. "They treat you how you want to be treated and they comfort you and make you feel welcome more than any other clinic you go to."
The only hurdle in running the clinic so far, said Bell, has been establishing a gender-neutral bathroom on the floor, which took a fair amount of paperwork and debate.
Future plans for the clinic include hiring a caseworker for visiting adolescents, which would require grant money. Plans also include further engagement with the lesbian community through a weekly lunchtime meeting.
Opening an LGBT clinic on the West Side was important, said Henry-Reid. Bigger LGBT centers like Howard Brown Health Center and the Center on Halstead (which does not provide medical services) can be geographically inconvenient for underprivileged youth in other parts of the city. Most youth travel to the clinic by public transport, she said, and some money is available to help them with travel if needed.
The clinic is also unique in its level of cultural competency and sensitivity toward LGBT issues. Henry-Reid and Bell have led trainings with nursing staff and residents on LGBT health issues, especially transgender issues.