Utah’s first LGBTQ community health center celebrates grand opening

Jan 26, 2024, 6:16 AM | Updated: 6:20 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A brand new health clinic known as the first of its kind in Utah, made its big debut Thursday evening.

The center offers medical and mental health services to the LGBTQ+ community, and the providers who work there say they see the purpose of a space like this now, more than ever.

The sound of jazz music floated through UAF Legacy Health, as dozens of people engaged in lively conversation.

Groups walked down the hallways, peeking into exam rooms and therapy suites.

Everyone came to celebrate the two-story space, and what it offers in terms of LGBTQ care.

UAF Legacy Health CEO Ahmer Afroz gave out hugs as people walked up to congratulate him.

“This is incredible!” A woman beamed. Afroz responded that it was “A very surreal moment.”

He said this is the only community health center in Utah focusing specifically on LGBT and HIV care. Patients and clients can receive primary care services, HIV prevention and treatment, therapy services, and support services including case management.

“We see a lot of health disparities within these populations,” Afroz said. “We see that they’re experiencing both chronic and infectious diseases at higher rates and have kind of greater negative health outcomes with them.”

Afroz explained that some providers in other places may decline those kinds of services to the LGBTQ community, or may use language the community finds negative, abusive, or not culturally competent.

He indicated that it deters people from seeking care, or they may not fully disclose their medical needs.

“Our goal is to create a place where people walk in knowing that it’s safe, and it’s trauma-informed and accounts for their many identities and different needs to provide them with the best health care possible,” Afroz said.

The grand opening came just hours after a different gathering at the Utah Capitol over the transgender bathroom bill. Anger and frustration echoed from the LGBTQ community outside, as the Senate inside passed the bill back to the House to approve major changes made Thursday.

Afroz said the UAF Legacy Health Clinic expects to see higher rates of people needing mental and physical health support systems for the community.

They expect to serve 30,000 Utahns a year.

“There’s robust data that shows that anti-LGBT anti-trans legislation has a direct impact on mental health and even physical health outcomes, including suicide rates,” he said.

Licensed clinical social workers like Drew Olsen, who is the Mental Health Director at UAF Legacy Health, are ready to help.

“It’s so important to have affirmative LGBTQ spaces and for therapeutic spaces to become accessible to groups of individuals,” he said.

Olsen expressed his hope that people see the community health center as a safe space to come and receive medical and mental health care and work together on solutions that are relevant to them.

“You can see somebody who understands what you’re going through, who can have compassion and empathy for what you’re going through,” he said. “And be able to help you sort through whatever it is that you’re dealing with in your life in an affirmative way.”

Standing outside, Afroz gave a speech to the crowd, followed by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, whom Afroz thanked along with the Salt Lake County Council for support of the project.

Afterward, they lined up for a ribbon cutting by the front door, to cheers and clapping.

Afroz called the facility a dream come true.

“We’re really hoping to be a beacon of hope, whether people access our services or not,” he said. “Just knowing that we exist and we’re doing the work we do, that’s critical. And that’s what I hope we can really spread.”

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Utah’s first LGBTQ community health center celebrates grand opening