Local advocates are raising funds to open a clinic in Bloomington-Normal that will address the health needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
It would be the first such clinic in central Illinois.
One model might be the Ann and Robert H. Lurie (LURE-ee) Children's Hospital in Chicago. The hospital has what is considered one of the most comprehensive clinics in the state for treating health issues involving gender and sexuality.
Without a specialized LBGTQ clinic here, many central Illinois residents currently travel to Lurie or one of two other clinics in Chicago that have specialized programs.
Dr. Robert Garofalo is director of Lurie's Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention. He says the health needs of the LGBTQ community are still widely misunderstood.
"We still live in a world where there is a tremendous about of prejudice and that prejudice and stigma lead to a real marginalization of populations," Garofalo said.
"The data on gay men or lesbians suggests that particularly those that are of a younger age -- adolescents and young adulthood -- may feel unwelcome or marginalized in traditional health care environments," he added.
For transgender individuals, a trip to the doctor can be even more traumatic, Garofalo said, since many physicians don't have significant experience treating this group.
Transgender individuals experience an extreme discomfort with their birth gender. It is a medically recognized condition known as "gender dysphoria." Many transgender individuals undergo a regimen of hormone treatments and surgery.
In addition to the Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention, Lurie also has a Gender and Sex Development program focused on transgender youth, since gender issues often arise at an early age.
Garofalo said the Lurie clinic on gender, sexuality and HIV prevention sees about 50 new patients a month. There is a four to five month waiting list. Many of those patients travel to Lurie from other parts of Illinois and the surrounding Midwest States.
Part of Lurie's mission, through funding from the Chicago-based Tawani Foundation, is to help establish LGBTQ clinics in other parts of the state.
"Lurie is always looking for collaborative partners," Garofalo said.
"A lot of what we do I always say isn't necessarily rocket science, so we look for partners, either private practitioners or community health centers that can work with us and families that travel from far away and we can help them increase their capacity to do this work," he added.
Lurie aims to be a one-stop option for members of the LGBTQ community, offering a variety of medical services under one roof, Garofalo said.
"What's really unique about Lurie is the holistic framework that we take. [Patients] can see a pediatrician, and endocrinologist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, we have a medical ethicist on staff, we have surgeons."
Other communities like Bloomington-Normal that are outside of major metropolitan areas, he said, are becoming increasing aware of long-ignored health needs of the LGBTQ community.
"These children and these families exist in all communities and the care that is needed is care their [health] centers should be providing on some level," he said.