On May 29, I had the honor to preside over Howard Brown Health Center's ( HBHC ) 2014 Annual Meeting devoted to a commemoration of HBHC's 40th anniversary. The following is a transcript of my remarks to the 250 assembled guests.
40 PROUD. As someone in his mid-40s, the slogan is not just a personal affirmation.
Today we are thrilled to launch 40 PROUD: a year's worth of commemorative activities marking the auspicious occasion of Howard Brown Health Center's 40th anniversary serving the community.
We've come a long way in four decades!
I'm reminded that in some faith traditions, 40 is considered a mystical milestone. In biblical terms, 40 is a symbol of patience and perseverance.
Nothing could more true for Howard Brown Health Center.
We've endured our share of challenges and yet the organization is standing, and standing strong.
40 PROUD is not just about the past but about the future. Our commitment tonightwith all of youis to continue to fight for a prouder and more powerful Howard Brown community: An institution that is built to last, professionally run, grounded in and by the community, and making a positive impact on the health and lives of our constituents.
Over 40 years, Howard Brown has grown and evolved, and so has the LGBT movement. The founding of our institution coincided with the American Psychiatric Association's historic decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental health disorders. The pace of progress has only continued. The movement's progress is most apparent by our recent success on marriage equality.
With so many advances secured, we stand at a historic crossroads.
For the people of Howard Brown, the path to pursue is clear as day. The next battle in our quest for equality must be improvements in community health.
As an agency, we are at a point in our development to dream bigto imagine a world where being LGBT actually improves your health instead of increases your risks for suicide, violence, cancer, depression, substance abuse, infection disease, or premature death.
I want to live in a world where our diverse communities enjoy equality in all facets of life.
Marriage equality is a game-changer, no doubt. But we must also experience equality where it matters mostin our physical and mental health. In our longevity and vitality. In our ability to access high-quality and culturally competent care.
I want to live in a world where we have the certainty and security thatin our moments of greatest needcompassionate healthcare is available to us and our partners, spouses, and family members.
I want to live in a world where every segment of our beautiful communityregardless of gender or gender expression, income level, age, or race/ethnicityenjoys health and security.
The future of Howard Brown will be paved by our unrelenting quest to marshal the best innovations in healthcare for every segment of our diverse community.
How are we going to make this vision a reality? We are going to do it with you.
We will rely on our community to guide and inform our work. We will strengthen each of our service lines. We will retain our best talent and bring on-board new energy and perspectives. We will manage our business prudently and strengthen our institutional base for future growth and long-term sustainability.
We will invest in every asset at our disposal.
This means expanding our historic investment in comprehensive and culturally competent health and wellness programs for disadvantaged youth;
This means strengthening our services for lesbian, bisexual, queer and straight women;
This means providing state-of-the-art primary and specialty care for gay, bi, queer and straight men;
This means expanding our abilities to care for our transgender brothers and sisters with dignity and respect;
This means supporting our elders, LGBT couples and families, and all the rich diversity that makes up the LGBTQ and ally rainbow.
To fulfill our mission, we are going to work hard to expand our patient base and will work even harder to secure a bigger and better permanent home for the Broadway Youth Center so more young people can benefit.
Beyond our client services, we will also invest in building our medical education programs, our research, our advocacy, and our institutional partnerships.
And, of course, we're going to fundraise to make these ambitious plans possible.
In fact, our plans to increase our patient base are already well underway. Beginning next week, we will begin construction to build four new examination rooms at our main facility on Sheridan Road. With generous support from the State of Illinois, and in particular State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the project will increase our clinic capacity at Sheridan Road by 50 percent! While we secured state support to afford the significant plumbing and construction costs, we still need to raise an additional $20,000 to fully outfit the four examination rooms for patient care.
Consider for a moment what four additional examination rooms mean for LGBT healthcare. Once fully outfitted, we will be able to offer the community a whopping 8,000 additional patient visits a year. Over the 10-year useful life of the project, that equals nearly a 100,000 added patient visits! Please, if you see it in your heart, help us raise the funds needed to put these new examination rooms to use as soon as construction is completed in October.
I would be remiss if I did not invite your donations of gently used furniture, home goods, and clothing for our social enterprise, the Brown Elephant. I have no doubt your homes are cluttered with unused stuff. We want it. We'll even pick it up!
The proceeds of the Brown Elephant and fundraising help us expand charity care to more patients who cannot afford care otherwise.
Our ambitious plans are only possible because of our hard working staff. Staff members, thank you for your kindness, good humor, and enormous compassion. I am so lucky to work with such an amazingly talented group of professionals.
Board members and members of the Community Advisory Board, thank you for all you do for the cause. And new Board and CAB members, we are so thrilled to welcome you to our ranks.
Finally, I must thank the most important resource of all: our loyal patients who elect Howard Brown as their life-affirming health home.
We work hard at Howard Brown but no one is working harder to heal and uplift lives than our patients. I want to leave you with a few stories that inspire me. Some names and facts have been altered in order to preserve patient confidentiality.
Meet Jasmine: a 19-year-old transgender woman who came into our clinic on a routine Friday night. It was an evening she will never forget. Her family accompanied her to the visit to support her quest to be treated with gender-affirming hormone therapy. Just two weeks prior, she revealed her true identify to her family and they lovingly embraced her. At Howard Brown, she met with a hormone advocate from our behavioral health team and a medical provider. Hormones in hand, she literally skipped out the door at the end of her visit. She can finally begin her journey to live her life the way it was intended. She has affirmation. Howard Brown is her health home.
Meet Dhyana: a 65-year-old cis-gender woman from India who woke up one day not feeling well. She asked her daughter to take her to the pharmacy to check her blood pressure. It was indeed elevated and she didn't feel well. She has health insurance for the first time in her life but navigating it has been confusing as English is her second language. She decided to stop at Howard Brown to see her regular physician. Though she came in without an appointment, the front desk recognized her urgent needs and immediately fit her into the schedule. She was found to have an irregular heart rhythm that could be life threatening if left untreated. She was transferred to the nearby hospital, treated, and settled into a normal rhythm later that day. Our stellar medical team saved Dhyana's life. Howard Brown is her health home.
Meet Samantha and Casey: A same-sex couple who dreamed of having a child but did not have the traditional means to do so. They looked into options at other medical centers and found them to be expensive, sterile, not romantic, and focused on infertility, which was actually not their issue. They learned about alternative means of conception available at Howard Brown. The process was not scary at all and they told us they appreciated the supportive, comprehensive, and competent care they received. Thanks to Howard Brown, the whole family now has a health home.
Meet Junior: a 23-year-old Latino man who we diagnosed with HIV in our walk-in clinic. Upon learning his diagnosis, he felt frightened and unsure of where to turn or what to do next. He was crying. A continuity-of-care specialist met with him to help him grieve and offer reassurance. We counseled him, signed him up for case management, medical care, and offered other resources. He left the clinicon this most traumatic of daysfeeling safer and more reassured. Howard Brown is now his health home.
All these and many other stories tug at the heart. But I must admit that for me, the last one hits close to home.
You see, at age 24, I was just as afraid and alone when a Howard Brown staff member gave me my HIV-positive test result. Back then there were no effective HIV treatments. I never could have fathomed all that would be in store for me: That I would not only survive but thrive living with HIV. That I would return to Howard Brown, not as a patient or funder, but as its chief executive.
And that I would preside over this august institution during a time of historic, national reform in healthcare; it just boggles the mind.
Joining the team at Howard Brown has brought my life and career full circle. And I am grateful for all this organization has done for me and my community.
I know that I speak for everyone at Howard Brown when I say we dedicate our time and talents to ensure no one in our community must face health uncertainties, illness, pain, or suffering alone.
We look forward to seeing you at Garden of Eve on Nov. 7 and at our other 40 PROUD commemoration events in the year ahead.
Munar is president and CEO of Howard Brown Health Center. Visit www.howardbrown.org .