Since its founding in 2017, the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation (“Hugh Lane”) has worked to improve the health of the LGBTQIA+ and HIV communities in western PA through training and consultation, providing access to holistic wellness services, and supporting LGBTQIA+ youth and their caregivers, particularly those involved in the child welfare system. Things were moving along well, according to Hugh Lane’s first executive director, Sarah Rosso. And then COVID-19 hit. Seemingly without missing a beat, Hugh Lane pivoted to become an organization that does whatever needs to be done – virtually and otherwise – to support LGBTQIA+ youth and their caregivers.
Rosso and their small staff are passionate about supporting LGBTQIA+ youth and families, particularly during this time when they face disproportionate risk due to lack of access to equitable healthcare, health disparities that put them at higher risk for complications from the virus, isolation and being quarantined in spaces that are not safe. This passion is evidenced by their response to the pandemic.
They quickly mobilized to respond to every person who reached out for support or more tangible resources, even reaching out to a local group, Sewing for Angels, that made 140 masks for DHS. Today, in addition to virtual individual and group support for youth and caregivers, they’ve added virtual social events, a grocery delivery service (including gift cards for those who prefer to do their own shopping), a cell phone payment plan for those in danger of losing their cell phone service, a small technology library to allow everyone to access their virtual services, and a pet food bank. And the staff is reaching out beyond their child welfare focus to support any provider, individual or caregiver in need of their services.
While some youth are excited that group activities and support are being offered virtually – particularly those who struggle with anxiety and social issues – for many the health and safety measures required by COVID-19 have exacerbated their problems. Hugh Lane has witnessed a spike in mental health needs, especially among youth who are living in environments that are not affirming. More than one youth has reported feeling that they would prefer getting the coronavirus to the isolation and judgment they are experiencing at home. To address these needs, Hugh Lane is offering one-to-one coaching and group support, as well as individual consultation and group classes with their caregivers designed to educate and help them build/improve relationships with their young LGBTQIA+ charges. These efforts have made a difference. According to one parent, “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Hugh Lane and this group class. I happened to mention to my son that I was going to be participating in the group so that I’d be more prepared to support LGBTQ+ youth in our home in the future, and right then and there, he came out to me. Every week I learn something new and get answers to my questions so that I’m better able to support my child. It has made our relationship stronger.”
Because their services are now being offered on a virtual platform, Hugh Lane’s reach has expanded geographically. They are currently working with youth in Philadelphia who are planning to participate in a future series.
What’s next for Hugh Lane? Hugh Lane is poised to participate in efforts that address the challenges inherent in the intersectionality of race and SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression). For PRIDE month, which continues through June, they are hosting a Black LGBTQIA+ leaders/voices series, prioritizing LGBTQIA+ stories and education, as well as a documentary, panel presentation, Juneteenth conversation, and competency training for caregivers of LGBTQIA+ youth.