COVID-19: William Way Center Holds Vaccine Clinic for Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

A line stretched down Spruce Street as people waited for their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The William Way Community Center, in partnership with Philadelphia FIGHT, delivered 200 first-dose vaccination shots to members of the LGBTQ+ community on April 6, 2021.

Dozens of people waited on a sunny afternoon in a line that went down the block along Spruce Street. There was an air of nervousness, excitement, and anticipation as everyone slowly shuffled forward while waiting their turn in line. 

“If you’re here for the vaccine, and you can’t stand for long periods of time just let me know and we can bring out a chair for you,” a staff member shouted. “The line has been moving pretty quick so if you have an appointment it shouldn’t be long!”

William Way’s mission is to serve the LBGTQ+ community in Philadelphia and opened the clinic in an effort to give back to its community and provide easy access to the vaccine, Ally Richman, chief operating officer for William Way, said. 

“I think the vaccine clinic offers a safe space that is affirming for queer and trans and nonbinary folk and its very important,” she said.

According to a 2020 report from The Fenway Institute members of the LBGTQ+ community are more likely to have chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS, and are more likely to smoke or vape, which make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

The report also states that members of the LBGTQ+ community experience more discrimination when accessing health care, including policies adopted that allow health care providers to refuse treatment based on moral or religious beliefs, which make members of the LGBTQ+ less likely to seek care.

William Way and Philadelphia Fight wanted to create a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community to get vaccinated because many in their community said they felt unsafe getting vaccinations in medical facilities, Richman said.

“I think that it’s really critical for LGBTQ folks to be able to access care,” she said. 

Gillian Peterson received her shot at William Way via an appointment. 

“I’m very privileged because I’m cis,” she said. “I’m straight passing, and I’m also White. I don’t have a lot of the issues and, like, fears that a lot of other people do. But even then, it is nice being in a space like this. It does feel safer.” 

Dozens of people wait their turn in a socially distanced line to get the COVID-19 vaccine from the William Way Community Center.

Experiences with medical discrimination can make members of the LGBTQ community feel unsafe in an environment that is supposed to help them, Richman said, “It is vital to give the members of our community a space that will be affirming for them,” she said. “Many people want to get vaccinated, but it can be scary for them to enter a space that they feel where they feel they will not be validated and safe.”

More than 716,000 people in Philadelphia have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and at least 471,000 residents are fully vaccinated, according to the City’s COVID-19 data. Still, individuals have struggled over the past several months to find vaccine appointments. 

Dan McCalebs said finding a vaccine has been impossible in the suburbs, where he lives. He was happy to wait in the block-long line for his vaccination appointment. 

“I’ve been trying for a while to get the vaccine, but everybody’s so busy,” he said. “And I live in Delco technically, and it was a long way to get here. But yeah, it’s been hard because there’s so many people trying to get the vaccine.”

William Way tried to promote their one day clinic as much as they could through social media, as well as reaching out to other safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. McCalebs heard about the clinic from an LGBTQ-friendly bar in Philly where he works at part time. 

This was the first time William Way ever offered a vaccination clinic, Richman said, but she certainly hopes it is not the last. 

“I think it’s simply a natural extension of our primary goal to provide support and resources to LGBT communities,” she said.

She said there can never be enough places that offer accessible health care, especially because everyone needs to get vaccinated at some point. 

It is also important to find ways to build community right now, especially as social distancing has made more people feel isolated, Richman said. 

“This vaccine clinic is one way that we are able to do that right now,” she said.

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