With so many barriers standing between the LGBTQ+ community and accessing healthcare, a group of Ohio students have taken it into their own hands to make sure everyone receives the care they deserve.
At the Rainbow Clinic, a free walk-in clinic started by undergraduate and medical students at the Ohio State University, patients and practitioners alike are immersed with a sense of comfort and belonging from the moment they enter the space. Launched on April 14th as part of the Columbus Free Clinic, the Rainbow Clinic offers a range of services, from primary care and check-ups to assistance with insurance coverage.
Gabe Lee, a third-year undergraduate student studying biomedical engineering, founded the clinic in the hopes that it would help remove healthcare barriers and promote education for LGBTQ+ healthcare. After volunteering at the Columbus Free Clinic for three years, Lee is proud to welcome the LGBTQ+ community to the Rainbow Clinic.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Lee to learn more about the ambitious plans being ushered in at the Rainbow Clinic.
How did the Rainbow Clinic come about and what does it offer?
The Rainbow Clinic originally started as an idea last year. I proposed a plan to the board of directors of the Columbus Free Clinic. After that initial approval, I got some undergraduate volunteers, all of whom identified in the LGBTQ+ community. We recruited medical student volunteers, and we were kind of just waiting until February, when we got our official date of April 14th. At that point, things started moving really quickly. We ordered rapid HIV tests, we met to establish how the clinic was going to flow, started developing promotions which we eventually sent out for patient recruitment, and we got some providers for the night.
Service-wise, we provide general primary care stuff, in addition to gynecological care and urological care. In June, we hope to add psychiatry as another one of the services we offer.
What inspired you to help create this clinic?
For me personally, it started with just a genuine interest in LGBTQ+ health. I was very cognizant throughout my undergrad that there were barriers to access for queer health, barriers that I’ve even felt in terms of comfortability at times. Something that I’ve noticed in our undergraduate population is undergrads would misgender some patients accidentally because of the lack of education. How would that make them feel, if they were to even just pick up that someone is a little more comfortable with using they/them pronouns?
That central advocacy, as well as my experiences outside of the clinic were influential. I volunteer at the Trevor Project, and there’s a handful of people who do come for healthcare-related concerns. They come not necessarily seeking healthcare, but more coming to complain about healthcare and their frustration with healthcare providers. It just seemed very pertinent that we have that service available, considering that Columbus has one of the largest LGBTQ+ populations in the country. This is ripe breeding ground for this new idea to kind of provide an alternative for care that did not question people’s insurance; it’s all completely free.
What are some of your goals for the Rainbow Clinic? How do you think it will benefit the community?
Our first launch night was fantastic; we saw about eight patients. We’re hoping to in the future increase our patient numbers to incorporate the psych component, and we’re planning to walk in Pride this year. We really just want to be a resource for the community so that people can know that there is a place where they can receive nonjudgmental and comprehensive, inclusive care.
For the longest time, I think a lot of queer people in this community feared going to the doctor; and they still do today because of those barriers. We want to become more well-known to have that presence, that this is a resource you can use. We will be potentially partnering with local organizations that focus on these low-income, uninsured, LGBTQ+ communities to provide that space.
In terms of goals, I think expanding our patient numbers and potentially doing some larger screening events would be really cool. Things such as cancer screenings become a little bit of a difficult conversation sometimes when talking with trans folks specifically, because some providers might not necessarily be educated or experienced with those conversations in terms of dealing with breast tissue and other organ tissue.
We also will be potentially standardizing protocols on intimate partner violence and sexual assault survivors, and working on how we can be more trauma-informed in our approach.
There are a lot of upcoming goals we can definitely implement by the end of the summer. The goal actually is to standardize queer-inclusive training, so that there no longer needs to be LGBTQ+ specific volunteers to check patients in, but that any patient could be checked in by anybody and could be seen by anybody.
How are you feeling now after the clinic has been opened?
Prior to the clinic, I was obviously a little nervous for its launch, but I was super excited. And on clinic night, I think it went by so fast, but there was just a wave of emotions. I felt nervous, obviously, but at the same time I felt very content. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if our patients would show up, but then when the first patient showed up, I felt that the night was worth it. I just felt so fulfilled, knowing that months ago this service didn’t exist, and these individuals probably wouldn’t have tried to pursue care if it didn’t happen.
I even felt this level of embrace that I hadn’t felt before; this level of relaxedness that I see in the volunteers and providers was just something so beautiful to be able to be a part of. I got so emotional toward the end of the night, because I feel like this is something that people spend their lives trying to develop and trying to create. A lot of my life has been centered around advocacy and action, and to be able to see that hard work, grit, and hours of meetings and times of disappointment and times of starting back to square one pay off was just incredible.
A couple days after, I was like, “I have to get back to work. Now we have to start the next one, and now we have to make it better.” I guess the life of public service and serving the community is that you can celebrate your wins and your victories — and we did, we were so happy and the staff was so excited — but at the same time, the work is never done. So you’ll be seeing us again in June, and hopefully we’ll be bigger and better! 🔥
- Learn more about the Rainbow Clinic by visiting their Rainbow Clinic Appointment Request Form, or scanning the QR code below.
- Ask your local clinic if they could possibly provide an LGBTQ+-specific walk-in day.