Feminist Health Center changes name to expand reach to men, LGBT

  • Equality Health Center Outreach Coordinator Lakayla Harris (left) and Executive Director Dalia Vidunas talk about the center’s recent name change from Concord Feminist Health Center to the Equality Health Center. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • A new sign is seen outside the Equality Health Center in Concord on Friday, July 7, 2016. The center was formerly called the Concord Feminist Health Center. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 8/9/2016 11:39:30 PM

What’s in a name?

A lot more than you might think, according to Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the former Feminist Health Center in Concord.

After 42 years, the Feminist Health Center, which has long provided family planning services from its office on South Main Street, has officially changed its name.

As of July, the organization became known as the Equality Health Center.

This name shift has been in progress for two years, since the organization started offering more services to men and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender groups.

Vidunas said the staff found that these groups were often unaware of the services accessible to them at the center – like sexually transmitted infection tests, reproductive services and annual exams – as well as hormone therapy for transgender patients.

“Consistently we would get calls – especially from men – asking, ‘Do you see men? Is that okay?’ ” Vidunas said.

Vidunas said the center didn’t see many men or LGBT community members, unless a patient was accompanying a partner who was already in treatment.

“It was more marginal and here and there, if somebody should happen to call,” she said. “But now we’re trying to really get out there, and say, ‘yes, we’re here for you.’ ”

Part of that show of support involved changing the organization’s name. Vidunas said a lot of male and LGBT patients were intimidated by the word “feminist” in the center’s title.

The word feminist started being used in association with women’s suffrage in the early 1900s, and followed the waves of women’s rights movements that progressed later in the century.

It is especially connected with the second wave feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s, of which women’s reproductive rights were a major issue.

The Feminist Health Center was established in the midst of all of that, following the 1974 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that allowed women access to abortions.

In recent years, however, feminism has come under political fire for being “anti-men,” or exclusive.

“Instead of it being clearer, I think feminism has gotten murkier in a lot of ways because you have such a, ‘I’m not a feminist’ movement going on now,” she said. “It’s a real shame because people tend to treat it like it’s a dirty word and it’s not.”

The new name, “equality,” was chosen by patients and supporters – the organization’s staff spent the last year weeding through options like the Equity Health Center, the Capital Health Center and Oasis Health Center, which were pulled from suggestions from newsletter and Facebook polls, and a survey at the 2015 Market Days.

“It’s so important what a name is, because it really represents you,” Vidunas said. “It really boiled down to, ‘what is feminism really about?’ and it’s equality.”

Lakayla Harris, the organization’s outreach coordinator, said that after the name change, she hopes audiences will be more receptive to the center’s message. After all, for many patients, the center is their only option for getting care.

Many of the center’s patients are low income – 24 percent are on Medicaid and 19 percent are uninsured or underinsured and pay for services out of pocket using a sliding scale fee, or a cost based off a customer’s ability to pay.

The center offers free services when they can, like counseling and pregnancy testing.

Harris said the goal is to make sure low-income patients have somewhere to go if they need health assistance.

“They’re grateful and thankful that we’re here because they would be stuck without us,” she said.

Dr. Robert Kelly, a family physician in Concord, a member of the LGBT community and a board member for the Equality Health Center, said places like the Equality Health Center are essential safe havens for people in minority health care groups.

Not all general primary care practices are well-versed in LGBT health care, and not all LGBT people feel safe being out to their insurance providers, Kelly said.

In the two pre-clinical years of medical school, there are only one to two hours of teaching focused on LGBT-specific health challenges. Kelly said physicians aren’t comfortable medically addressing the unique issues LGBT patients face – instead, most medical professionals are “stuck in the old mindset,” Kelly said.

“Ideally primary care would be experts at handling LGBT specific issues, but right now that’s lagging behind,” he said.

He said there is especially a huge lack of education in transgender hormone therapy. Members of LGBT groups are typically also at much higher risk for depression and suicide, which is something many physicians neglect.

This can lead to members of these groups feeling isolated or like they have nowhere to turn, Kelly said.

That’s where places like the Equality Health Center come in.

“What we hope is that some of the things that the center offers can help augment the other services in primary care that go along with things like transgender specific health care issues,” Kelly said.

Vidunas said the center will continue to fill the role that the Feminist Health Center has for many years in Concord, to look after low-income and marginalized health care groups.

“There are very few places that you can work where you can bring your passion and your ideology, and know that what you’re doing is just so good and wonderful for people, being willing to provide a service that not all providers are willing to provide,” she said.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3305 or lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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