ST. PETERSBURG — Metro Inclusive Health, a local health and wellness nonprofit that provides services for the LGBTQ community, is launching a mobile testing unit aimed at bringing HIV screening into communities hit hard by the virus.
“We’re trying to eliminate the barriers to care and prevention,” said Brian Bailey, the center’s chief marketing and experience officer. “HIV testing is always ground zero.”
Bringing a testing lab into the community “makes it a little easier,” he said, by providing a neutral space for those who may not have access to doctors’ offices or who may not be comfortable at one.
“‘As a local organization, we have grown alongside Tampa Bay by serving the community’s holistic health needs,’ [METRO] CEO Lorraine Langlois said. ‘Being able to restore and modernize this beautiful piece of local history for the community while expanding our impact fits right in line with our organizational mission.’ …
The restoration [of the German American Club] remains [METRO’s] fundraising focus through the end of 2020, a year in which one of its largest annual fundraisers has been postponed. Its 2019 Cocktail Party raised nearly $110,000 for its essential health and community services but will not proceed in light of COVID-19.
‘It’s critical mass,’ [Dir. of Fundraising, James] Keane says. “We have to get this accomplished – and in order to do it, we need further support.'”
“Many young people lean on each other for support, which can provide comfort, solace, belonging. But often the burden of holding a peer’s pain is too heavy to shoulder.
There’s a certain guilt or shame that comes when people who are confided in — whether young or old — are unable to help peers contemplating self-harm, said Carolyn Redmond, a licensed clinical social worker and the behavioral health manager at Metro Inclusive Health in St. Petersburg.
It’s especially difficult when the person being looked to for help is suffering through their own battles, said Redmond, who works to help youth set boundaries against taking on too much.”
“Since its 2003 inception, participants have raised more than $11.8 million for beneficiaries in Florida. A record $1,325,427 was raised in 2019, 100% of which was distributed to Broward House in Wilton Manors, Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Centers in South Florida, Metro Inclusive Health in Tampa Bay, Pridelines in Miami-Dade County, AIDS Help in Monroe County, Miracle of Love in Central Florida and Compass Community Center in Palm Beach County.
In lieu of its traditional 165-mile journey, SMART Ride 17 cyclists will be challenged to ride 165 miles Nov. 20-22 wherever they may be. Organizers noted that they will continue to raise funds for Floridians affected by HIV/AIDS through a combination of virtual and physical challenges. Additionally, anyone can participate this year by committing to log 165 miles, minutes or other measurable metric for the physical activities of their choice.”
“LGBTQ youth represent as much as 40 percent of the homeless youth population, according to the Trevor Project, which offers free crisis counselors to LGBTQ youth by phone. “Being on campus is really important,” Hanson said, “and things like COVID-19 exacerbate that.’
Tampa Bay-based Metro Inclusive Health and the LGBT National Help Center have both reported an increase in young people seeking their help since the pandemic started. … [METRO] has tried to combat COVID-19 isolation by taking its four weekly LGBTQ youth groups online. On Tuesday and Thursday nights it’s a peer support group, and on Fridays and Saturdays it’s more about just being social.”
“The third episode of the [PBS Prideland] series … focuses on being transgender in the South. It features [two METRO employees] Kiala Emmons of Tampa, who identifies as a pansexual African-American woman, and Cole Foust of St. Petersburg, who identifies as a transgender man. In a roundtable discussion, they talk candidly about their relationship status, dating, asexuality and how to manage diverging expectations in the LGBTQ community.”
“‘It starts with a small portion of the trans health care, and then it later progresses to other areas of our community, where they’re slowly taking away rights,’ said Kiala Emmons, a service navigator at METRO who helps direct patients toward the services they need, or refers them to partner specialists and surgeons.
She said discrimination can cause trans people not to seek care at all. Discrimination includes doctors refusing to use the correct pronouns or referring to a patient by their birth name, often referred to as a ‘dead name’ in the trans community. … [Emmons] said that it’s particularly important for transgender people to be their own patient advocates for care, and to reach out to organizations like METRO or Florida Trans Proud that keep lists of trans-friendly medical providers.”
“The health partners first announced their Tampa expansion in 2019. They acquired the historic Ybor City venue to transform it into a 30,000-square-foot health and community center, breaking ground on the project that year.
‘As a local organization, we have grown alongside Tampa Bay by serving the community’s holistic health needs,’ Metro Inclusive Health CEO Lorraine Langlois shared at the time. ‘Being able to restore and modernize this beautiful piece of local history for the community while expanding our impact fits right in line with our organizational mission.'”
“The mayor says she’s attended several events with the non-profit and feels METRO is a gem in our community, providing primary care to people of all ages. “When you think, quite often, about gay and transgender youth, there is a high degree of depression in those communities, and quite often, individuals who don’t feel like they have any one to turn to. Metro inclusive is that place that everyone, everyone can turn to,” Castor said.
METRO’s Inclusivity Icon flag incorporates various identities within the LGBTQ+ community enclosed in a bracket for ‘inclusivity.'”
“In the Tampa Bay area, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use is booming among white gay men and lagging among the young gay men of color whose HIV rates have been highest—and climbing—in recent years.
[METRO’s Preschard Williams responds,] ‘There’s a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there. I hear things like, “PrEP puts you at a higher risk for HIV,” “It puts HIV inside you,” or, “It’s super-expensive,” because they don’t know there are programs that offer it for free. Or I hear, “That’s not for me—I don’t do those things.” In the African-American community, the stigma around both being gay and around HIV are huge barriers.'”
Following a year-long review process, Metro Inclusive Health today announced they have achieved national accreditation from the New York-based Council on Accreditation (COA).
Being so impressed with the organization’s practices, COA expedited METRO’s accreditation process. In a letter, COA president and CEO Jody Levinson-Johnson congratulated METRO’s leadership for such an “…amazing achievement.”
“The ‘Stay-In’ LGBTQ+ Youth Camp is being hosted by St. Petersburg nonprofit Metro Inclusive Health. Kids get a colorful box packed with activities, snacks and a shirt.
Virtual ‘campfires’ and ‘cabins’ offer plenty of online chatter and bonding.
Program Specialist Hannah Powell says for all the fun and games, the love and acceptance of the camp is the true magic.”
“The Plus Project invited nonprofits to apply for grants in the $10,000 range through April 30, seeking applicants “that are addressing or plan to address current, emerging and/or unmet needs with regard to the LGBTQ+ community.”
The first round’s recipients were revealed during a virtual presentation, broadcast live via the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s Facebook page in a video seen below. Grants were given to Community Tampa Bay, Metro Inclusive Health, Equality Florida, Youth Improvement Services, Empath Partners in Care (EPIC) and the League of Women Voters.”
“PowerOn is helping us fulfill our mission of reaching the diverse population in the Tampa Bay community and beyond,” LGBTQ+ Division Manager Cole Foust says. “These devices will help us create more accessible and engaging programming for LGBTQ+ people of all ages.
“With years of experience serving thousands of individuals in our area, we could not be more pleased to receive this designation by a federal agency,” said METRO CEO Lorraine Langlois. “This fast-tracks our ability to impact even more lives while supporting a healthier Tampa Bay and greater quality of life for all.”
“We have more people coming in now because you have those people that don’t want to wait that 20 minutes,” Prevention Specialist with Metro Inclusive Health Shirlene Manuel said. “They say it lasts a lifetime. The people that we do the blood work on where we have a two day turn around on the blood work also think that’s a lifetime. To get that result in a minute has made more people want to come in and get tested.”