New LGBTQIA+ safe zones make way in Newport

Kaicie Boeglin

Editor-in-Chief

Image via Brittany Ballantyne

NEWPORT, R.I. 一 As of Oct. 28, Newport Mental Health and the Women’s Resource Center of Newport County have received designation as LGBTQ Safe Zones. This designation comes from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) and these organizations are the first two Newport County agencies to become part of their LGBTQ Safe Zone Program.


The BCBSRI directed LGBTQ program certifies providers and community-based organizations identifying themselves as supporters of the entire LGBTQIA+ community.


BCBSRI launched its LGBTQ Safe Zone program in 2016 and the IA+ was not yet included into the minority acronym. The BCBSRI program has more than 40 certified Safe Zone providers in locations across Rhode Island that represent a number of specialties, primary and dental health and behavioral and mental health services. This program creates an avenue for individuals to find access to affirming care which will respect this under-served community. This marginalized group has specific healthcare needs and has historically struggled with healthcare interactions. They have often forgone necessary regular care due to feelings of alienation, stress, frustration and fear. Certified entities must meet a number of requirements reflecting BCBSRI policies and procedures, they must also possess a physical space related to equity and inclusion for LGBTQ patients. Organizations and entities looking to became LGBTQ Safe Zones can do so by visitng www.bcbsri.com, scrolling to the Safe Zone Program and filling out an application.


Newport Mental Health CEO and President Jamie Lehane said “The Safe Zone certification goes far beyond gender neutral bathrooms, although that’s a good start,”


Lehane continued, “Inclusion and equity are paramount, and we want to be sensitive and welcoming to all populations, cultures and ethnicities. For the Safe Zone Program, all of our staff, including receptionists, clinicians, finance and others, have undergone extensive training. We’ve modified our intake forms, emails, and other documentation. We want everyone who comes through our doors to know we are here for them and will do whatever it takes to help them in an affirming and positive way.”


WRC Executive Director Jessica Walsh said, “Every person deserves safe and healthy relationships. Domestic violence does not discriminate, and can impact anyone regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or social status – though the burden of domestic abuse is not shared equally. Domestic violence occurs in LGBTQ relationships at similar or higher rates than in heterosexual, cisgender relationships, and studies show gay men and bisexual women are at an increased risk for experiencing severe physical violence in intimate relationships.”

Walsh continued, “At the Women’s Resource Center, we understand the critical need for trauma-informed support and affirming care for LGBTQIA+ survivors. All survivors deserve to be supported, believed and valued, especially those who face additional barriers including discrimination and differential treatment in their journey to safety and rebuilding their lives after abuse.”

The WRC provides programs and services for domestic violence victims and their families, including counseling support, shelter and housing services and court and family advocacy. The 24/7 statewide confidential helpline can be reached at 1-800-494-8100, or via online chat at www.ricadv.org.

Newport Mental Health, a federally Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic offers evidence-based mental health services to the 82,000 residents of Newport County, regardless of ability to pay. On an annual basis, NMH serves over 1,450 high risk adults and children at its five locations.


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