Interview with the LGBT Life Center

The weather has shifted, and with that comes the end of one of our busiest seasons yet! We’ve been blown away by the work we’ve been able to do with you and for you in 2018! Already, we’ve sent nearly 7,000 cards to people all over the world! We’ve sent cards to human-trafficking victims in the Midwest; our homeless neighbors here in Hampton Roads, as well as Richmond; the immigrant and refugee children who were separated from their families in border states; prison inmates across the Commonwealth of Virginia, and so much more!

That’s almost 7,000 reminders that they matter, they have a purpose, and that they aren’t forgotten. Before we close out what has been one of the most meaningful and humbling seasons in our nearly 5 years, we’ve got one more project!

Earlier this summer, we partnered with the LGBT Life Center of Hampton Roads in an effort to provide a little bit of kindness and sunshine for our LGBTQ+ neighbors in the community. This Sunday, October 21st, from 1-3pm, we’ll be meeting in Norfolk to write cards that will be available to anyone who happens to walk through the LGBT Life Center.

Compassion Cards has always existed with the sole purpose of actually loving everybody, and we’re honored to continue that work, whether it’s right here at home, or across the globe. In preparation for our event this Sunday, we did an interview with Corey. Corey works at the LGBT Life Center, and has given us such an important look into what life is like everyday for the our LGBTQ+ community.

As you read Corey’s words, we encourage you to read them with an open heart and an open mind. The work we’re doing here doesn’t become less important just because the projects change. If anything, the people we work with in all of our projects are absolutely deserving of all the love we can give.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the history of the LGBT Life Center of Hampton Roads? 

A. We’ve gone through a lot of change over the years! Back in 1989, the organization was started by nuns who wanted to help women and children who were affected by HIV and AIDS. At the time the organization was founded, we were called CANDII House, which stood for Children’s’ AIDS Network Designed for Interfaith Involvement. Back then HIV/AIDS was often a death sentence. But over the years, as HIV changed, so did the organization. In 2005 we merged with a local ASO (AIDS Service Organization) – there were several in Tidewater at the time – which was called Full Circle Hospice (a name that hearkened back to the years when HIV was often fatal), and then in 2006 we changed the name all together and became ACCESS AIDS Care, which felt more appropriate since drug therapies were so good people were living long, normal, healthy lives. Finally, in 2016, with some of the best drug therapies and prevention methods ever available, we decided to move into LGBTQ programs and services. We were already serving the LGBTQ population, of course – which is most affected by HIV/AIDS – but we wanted to be able to expand those services to provide great health and wellness to the community at large, and so we became LGBT Life Center!

Q. What is the mission of the LGBT Life Center?

A. Our mission is to empower the LGBTQ communities, and all people affected by HIV, through improving health and wellness, strengthening families and communities, and providing transformative education and advocacy.

We do this by providing case management services (helping people stay on top of taking their medications and scheduling medical appointments), by providing housing (we house hundreds of people), by providing transportation to and from medical appointments (thousands of rides every year), by providing nutritional assistance (over 10,000 pounds of food per year), by hosting LGBTQ affirming activities and events, and soon we’ll be doing it by providing an LGBTQ affirming and HIV specialty care clinic and pharmacy.

 

Q. Why do you believe in the work of the LGBT Life Center?

A. For me personally, I grew up in a small town. As far as I knew, there wasn’t a gay person for miles around. That weighs on you. It makes you question who you are, it makes you feel like it’s wrong, it makes you feel out of place, othered, scared. And when you combine no visual support – because no one around you is openly gay – with a society and family that doesn’t support it, it can make for a deadly cocktail. There’s a reason 44% of all transgender people have attempted suicide, and there’s a reason why LGBTQ people suffer from depression and anxiety 3 times as much as the average person. 85% of LGBTQ people report having been bullied in school because of their sexual orientation. When you face a lifetime of that, it’s no wonder our community has mental health challenges.

And beyond that, we have a huge disparity in access to health care. From LGBTQ people who can’t get jobs, get a promotion, get housing because of their orientation (in most states it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBTQ in employment, housing, and while selling goods or services – including right here in Virginia) to doctors that are too afraid to talk to us about sex, our relationships, hormones or other health care issues specific to our community, we face substantial barriers to health care.

That’s why we made opening an LGBTQ clinic part of our strategic growth plan. We’ll be opening the first of at least two this December.

“kindness is free, and it lifts us up.”

Q. How can people in the community become involved in embracing the LGBT community here in Hampton Roads?

A. There’s so many ways to get involved! You can volunteer at The Center, or by helping at our weekly charitable bingo games (https://lgbtlifecenter.org/help/volunteer/), you can donate to help us continue this critical work, and you can tell someone it’s inappropriate when they call someone a faggot or say “that’s so gay” when they mean that’s so dumb. You can be an ally by being a good human.

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Q. Our goal through our cards is to embrace and empower people in all different walks of life. How do you think the center's circle of influence will respond to receiving these cards?

A. I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of people being kind to me. I say that in gest a bit, but our community, and the people we serve, have a lot of people who are unkind to us. I was in Starbucks in Norfolk the other day and a man looked at me and called me a faggot. I didn’t know him, I hadn’t said a word to him – we weren’t in an altercation (not like that would excuse it), but he felt he was allowed to say that to me. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the discrimination the LGBTQ community faces, in particular, the trans community, whom we see harassed, misgendered, discriminated against, and murdered in completely unacceptable numbers.

Have you ever been given a compliment and you play it on repeat in your head? I’m sure you have; we all have. Cards like this provide that compliment, much needed affirmation, solidarity, unity – and it’s especially needed now, in this climate where our rhetoric, be it on Facebook or at a White House press briefing, has really gone south. Kindness is free and lifts us up. Thank you for sharing your kindness with us.

“you have to want to learn, you have to ask and look things up; you have to give a damn.”

Q. Is there any advice you have for people who are looking to be supportive of the LGBT community, perhaps even in their own family, but don't know how to be/are hesitant to be?

A. We had a mother and father come into The Center about a year ago – their son had just come out to them and he was very depressed and they wanted to get information on how to be supportive. They wanted to know how to talk about it, how to make him feel more comfortable with it, and how to feel more comfortable themselves. That right there is huge. They could have told him it was a phase or they could have just said okay and kept on going about their daily life…but they wanted to do more for him than that. I was really impressed by them.

Learning takes time and energy, but there are so many free resources out there that there’s no excuse to not expand our knowledge. If you’re uncomfortable asking someone their pronouns, it’s because you haven’t done it before. Once you do it a few times it’ll start to come naturally. But you have to do it, you have to want to learn, you have to ask and look things up; you have to give a damn.  

Corey, thanks so much for doing this interview with us, and inviting us into this space with you. To our readers: we love all of you so much, and we hope you’ll consider joining us this Sunday, as we gather to continuing pouring kindness into our world, one card at a time. Most importantly: love somebody well today!

Remember, 10/21, 1-3pm, at 5178 Sellger Drive, Norfolk, VA 23502. Email us at info@compassioncards.org if you have any questions.

Jordan DiFernando