By Lauren Sega, Columbus Underground
An Equitas Health program will get its own facility this fall. Mozaic, a CDC-funded initiative focused on HIV prevention and health and wellness services for trans and non-binary people of color, will soon operate out of an Old North building located at 2228 Summit St. Once open, it’ll offer what program director Cory Frederick says will be the first safe space in Central Ohio that’s completely dedicated to transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender non-binary people of color, ages 13 to 29.
Mozaic first launched last year, when Equitas Health received a grant from the CDC totaling $1.9 million over five years to create a comprehensive HIV prevention program targeting transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender non-binary people of color, a population that is two-to-three times more likely to contract the virus than white gender non-conforming people. According to the CDC, between 2009 and 2014, 29 percent of trans Latinx women and more than half of all African American trans women were diagnosed with HIV, compared to 11 percent of white trans women.
The CDC grant totaled $1.9 million over five years, and since then Equitas Health has implemented a community-centric program that, along with providing basic services like HIV testing, STI screening, and linkage to health and support services, has also worked to establish trust in healthcare providers for their target population.
“We find folks have a historic lack of trust in healthcare provers in the traditional clinic setting,” said Frederick, adding that often it’s trans individuals who have to educated physicians on their needs. “This program is created by and run by people of that population. So, we’re hoping that when they come into the space, they immediately feel they’re welcome, their voices are heard, and their needs are valued and addressed.”
This distrust in medical systems is rooted in a history (and an ongoing issue) of racism and implicit bias perpetrated by healthcare providers across every discipline, regardless of a patient’s gender identity, and even regardless of their socioeconomic status. Within just the last few years, the studies around this phenomenon have proliferated. One was put out by Harvard Medical School last year, which observed that racism and racial bias within the healthcare system hasn’t diminished since racial health disparities were first officially noted in the 1980s. Those disparities are found to directly cause more disease, worse outcomes and premature death for non-white populations.
Once Mozaic’s program opens its own physical location, Frederick said that, along with acting as a community hub, they’re looking to further connect with potential clientele by tapping into the “tight knit underground social network” within the gender non-conforming community. People will be able to host their own testing parties, enabling those who may feel excluded to engage with Equitas Health, Mozaic, and their services through familiar channels.
“The community has been clamoring for safe spaces, and this will be the only one of its kind, the only space in Columbus and surrounding counties specifically dedicated to trans people,” Frederick said. “The word on the street is out, and people are excited.”