An asylum seeker from Nigeria has been waiting in limbo for his interview. A woman with a past misdemeanor conviction is worried that her application for citizenship will be affected. A transgender woman seeking to change her gender marker needs financial support to acquire her birth certificate. No matter their circumstances, participants in Osborne’s newest Bronx-based program are finding a welcoming connection to an array of resources that, as people who identify as LGBTQIA+, they have too often lacked.
“We are addressing the needs of LGBTQIA+ people who have contact with the justice system or are at risk for it,” said Christina Mansfield, Osborne’s Vice President of Health and Wellness. “This is a population that has not been served, that has too often been treated as if they are invisible.”
Osborne’s LGBTQIA+ Case Management Program launched last month with funding from the AIDS Institute. It is staffed by Program Coordinator Fitz Smith and Senior Peer Educator Grace Detrevarah. Together, they are now working with 25 people—with more on the waiting list—to tackle a range of challenges that emerge for people at this intersection of identities and experiences.
Fitz and Grace started by creating a welcoming space for in-person group meetings, which have focused on storytelling. People who are recently home and have been navigating new systems share their stories of resilience and what they’re looking forward to. This unstructured time—a clubhouse feel, Fitz says—builds the trust needed to consider weighty topics.
“We have folks from the trans community that have talked about being involved in sex work. Our participants have domestic violence issues,” says Fitz. “And we talk about HIV and preventive care, about substance use, too.”
Osborne’s goal is twofold: to address specific health and related service needs through intensive case management that is attuned to individuals’ experience and supports them in stabilizing essential elements of their day-to-day lives. In addition, staff will advocate for participants and for the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole in the wider environment of service providers in New York City—and provide participants with the tools to advocate for themselves.
“Folks tend not to think of the intertwining of being LGBTQIA+ and incarceration,” Fitz says. “Many people think they have to be silent in a cisgender male-dominated setting just to get by, that they have to suppress their identity to get services.”
Not so for those now in Grace and Fitz’s care. The response so far, they say, has been overwhelming. As Grace notes, “The floodgates are now open. That’s how we feel. We’re providing something that has been desperately needed.”