With Pride Month celebrations underway, many in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are shining the light on access to healthcare. This comes as more than 100 bills targeting LGBTQ rights made it to legislatures in 22 states this year. Many took aim at care for young transgender people.
Now, members of Connecticut’s LGBTQ+ communities are weighing in on what they see as the state’s strengths and where they want to see improvements when it comes to healthcare.
Jayde Maffeo knows a thing or two about sparkle, sass and dance. However, she wasn’t always a queen in the limelight. The 20-year-old transgender woman started her transition two years ago.
“I’ve always known since I was really little,” Maffeo, of East Haven, said. “When I turned 18 and I started doing drag and finding a lot of trans women, I knew that this is something that I wanted to do.”
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Maffeo began her journey at Anchor Health.
“They're queer-owned, you know, gay, lesbian, doctors, trans doctors,” she said.
She hopes to eventually get gender-affirming surgeries and fully transition over the next 10 years. Yet Maffeo says the hormone therapy she is receiving now has already turned her life around.
For years, she endured gender dysphoria, feeling a mismatch between her sex at birth and gender identity.
“Very depressed and just not living my truth,” Maffeo said. “They helped me get out of a very dark place.”
It’s access that she does not take for granted - her physical transition not the only test, but also her emotional evolution.
“Highs definitely the medical aspects of my transition, being able to have access to hormones and therapists, and find support groups to really help me feel comfortable,” Maffeo said. “The downside, just personal struggles, just things with family. It's just it's not easy in the beginning. But I've learned to be very understanding of other people's feelings, and just know that it does get better eventually. I'm very grateful to have such a supportive family.”
Maffeo found part of her network at the New Haven Pride Center, where she joined one of the nonprofit’s 10 support groups.
“We have a question in gender affinity space, we have a safe space social group, or young adult safe spaces. There's a transmasculine affinity group. We have our rainbow elders support group,” Bennie Saldana, New Haven Pride Center support service coordinator, said.
Saldana, a case manager, says building community at the center can be as simple as ensuring people have clothing, available in their community closet.
“We have a rack here and it has varied sizes, and unisex clothing that folks can grab right off the hanger and put into bags,” Saldana said.
It could also mean ensuring no one goes hungry, thanks to hot meals in the food pantry.
“We have microwavable items specifically, because some people just don't have access to a stove or an oven,” Saldana said.
Yet Saldana says he has also witnessed an uptick in mental health needs.
“We've seen a lot of people come in and openly admit that they are suffering,” he said. “I would say our political climate has been a major driving force in the fact that folks are suffering with their mental health.”
It is why Saldana says it was detrimental when the nonprofit closed temporarily at the beginning of the year after running out of funding.
“Although I think a lot of the politicians have promised lots of things, specifically affordable healthcare, I don't think I've seen an impressive amount of support in that area,” he said.
After 30 days of fundraising, the center opened its doors again. While Saldana is grateful many Connecticut lawmakers stand behind LGBTQ+ rights, he wants the state to put more money into these services.
“It is extremely valuable. It is literally saving lives every day,” Saldana said.
At the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective (HGLHC), Executive Director Linda Estabrook knows firsthand just how much is at stake. She saw that toll that the HIV and AID epidemic took decades ago.
“I had friends who had AIDS, and I took care of them. And several passed away, very young, 20s and 30s. And that stays with you. It never goes away,” Estabrook said.
Combating the stigma that surrounded LGBTQ+ communities in the 80s and 90s, the Health Collective opened up in 1983. Now the clinic offers immunizations, STD prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and women’s exams, among other services.
It also provides something else that has been hard for LGBTQ+ people to obtain throughout the decades: dental care.
“With the AIDS epidemic and HIV, it's been very difficult for people to receive dental care,” Dr. Kevin Hall, HGLHC dental director, said.
“Into the mid-90s and even beyond, they rarely were able to get oral health services, because of the fears that the dentists and other providers had about contracting the disease,” Estabrook said.
Estabrook says still today, there are more LGBTQ+ patients in Connecticut than there are primary care providers who can meet their needs.
Now however, medical advancements have created HIV and AIDS treatments that make a log life possible.
“I am grateful every day that we have those kinds of tools and access to the medication and resources that are keeping people alive, versus losing them,” Estabrook said.
It’s why she says no one should be complacent in defending the spectrum of healthcare options.
“Connecticut is not immune. Misinformation is here in Connecticut,” Estabrook said. “We need to come constantly maintain vigilance, awareness, and call it out when it needs to be called out.”