The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many daily activities and has placed enormous pressure on local community organizations. One of those organizations struggling to fulfill their mission is the LGBT Center of Greater Reading. Executive Director, Michelle Dech, gives us insight on how the LGBT community is handling the pandemic.
Like many organizations, the LGBT Center has gone virtual. Dech says figuring out how to offer the same services and programs online was a challenge at first, but now a few weeks in, she has gotten into a groove.
“All of our support groups are running virtually and it’s actually given us an opportunity to offer additional groups” said Dech. “Where we typically do one large event open for the community, once every two months or three months, now we are able to host additional programs, which is a big positive.”
Besides re-structuring programming, the LGBT Center is also helping community members one on one. “It’s been a big change, we do weekly calls and text message check-ins with a lot of our elderly or those who are isolated” said Dech. “Plus, we’ve been doing one on one outreach, distributing pre-packed toiletries, clothing, and a very small food pantry for those in need.”
Why is LGBTQ+ community at particular risk for COVID-19? Risks are the result of several factors. The LGBTQ+ community uses tobacco at rates that are 50% higher than the general population. In addition, higher rates of HIV and cancer among LGBTQ+ individuals mean that a greater number may have a compromised immunity.
Unfortunately, risk factors do not just stop with personal health. According to Dech, they can also be from barriers in healthcare which may lead some to not seek medical care.
Barriers in healthcare are exactly why Dech and the LGBT Center provide training to local employers and healthcare companies. “We work with organizations to tailor our training to meet the needs of the organization, each workshop is completely custom.” said Dech. Workshops include best practices, terminology, and for the healthcare field, ways to make medical visits a pleasant experience.
To continue their community engagement, the LGBT Center recently received an emergency grant from the Berks County Community Foundation. Dech says the funds will be used to support the nonprofit’s mission and additional community outreach programs.
“We have more needs then we do resources right now” says Dech. “We are so blessed and grateful for the help of the Community Foundation. We will be using the funds to keep things running and keep our community strong.”
Advocacy is still an important job for the LGBT Center. Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, data driven demographic information is minimal for the LGBTQ+ community. “In Pennsylvania, there’s no mandate to collect data” says Dech. “It’s very difficult to really get a good a good grip on the extent of this virus and the level that it’s affecting our community because there’s no data being collected”
“My goal is to get sexual orientation and gender identity part of the data collection process” says Dech. “That way we can really identify the disparities and the deaths within the LGBTQ community with this virus.”
To find out why the data is not being collected, Dech, along with several other LGBT organizations across the commonwealth have reached out to policy makers for answers. “I had the opportunity to be on a phone conference with Senator Bob Casey last week where we discussed the data collection and some of the other health disparities”.
Although Dech is encouraged by the forward movement and proactive response, she also realizes it will take time for data collection to be mandated. “There is space for documentation by hospitals and doctors, however, it hasn’t been mandated by the state so no data is collected”.
Although the future is still unclear as to when everything will return to normal, Dech says the change has inspired her to double the efforts of the LGBT Center and focus more on the local community. “I would definitely recommend that people stay tuned to our Facebook page, website, and email newsletter, as we are actively creating and developing new programs and services to support the community.”
You can learn more about the LGBT Center of Greater Reading and virtual programs by visiting: https://www.lgbtcenterofreading.com
BCTV and Berks Weekly are working together to bring you the stories of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This media partnership is made possible in part by the support of Berks County Community Foundation.