LGBTQ youth and the little program that helps them on their journey to a health adulthood

Renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has provided low-cost health insurance to 9-million children for over a decade now, is in limbo across several states, including here in Pennsylvania. While it looks very likely that the CHIP program will be passed here in Pennsylvania soon, it may come with an amendment that removes trans services for youth. There is a battle to get trans services back into CHIP in Harrisburg, and as of presstime some services were restored, except for surgery. Despite the outcome of this effort, Mazzoni Center will continue to provide service for all youth, ages 14-24, with or without health insurance.

For the past eight years, our Adolescent Drop-In Clinic has provided a youth-only space with access to our services for those without insurance. The services offered at Drop-In include medical care, trans care, physicals, sexual-health services, assistance with insurance and referrals, a variety of social-services offerings and legal assistance. This service is provided at Mazzoni Center, 1348 Bainbridge St., on the second floor, 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays. As Drop-In is first-come, first-served, we suggest you get there by 4:15 p.m. to make sure you are able to be seen that night. Other services that are available, such as legal and social resources, are more flexible.

The Adolescent Drop-In Clinic was created out of a significant need for such a program for LGBTQ young people, as reports have shown that such youth are overwhelmingly uninsured or underinsured, especially those who have either been kicked out by parents and are homeless, or those who are not out about their sexuality and gender identity to their families. This means their needs are not being met by the typical medical visit; because the youth are not being recognized for who they are, their chances of being infected by a sexually transmitted disease, battling depression and attempting suicide all increase.

“I’ll be honest, the national data is bleak,” said Bridget McBride, care coordinator at Mazzoni Center, who has been a part of the Drop-In program for several years. “Fortunately, the intelligence and resiliency of youth is absolutely astounding. Youth will find their way to a happy and healthy adulthood, as long as the opportunities are available for them to explore their own path. Each youth who has trusted our little program enough to allow us along for their journey is a memorable story.”

This is what has made the Adolescent Drop-In Clinic such a crucial program at Mazzoni Center. It goes beyond the typical doctor visit and allows the youth the opportunity to be comfortable talking about all their needs as an LGBTQ or gender-nonconforming individual to a team of people that knows where they are coming from.

This level of comfort can be seen at every Drop-In, where a large number of youth stop by just to eat pizza, check in with staff or simply be in a safe space with friendly faces. As McBride put it, “At Drop-In, there is no typical visit. We view the program as a gateway to engaging in routine care so we are glad to have youth engaged, regardless of the reason for their visit.”

Drop-In remains crucial to Mazzoni Center’s work; 26 percent of youth accessing the program are using it as an entry point to care at Mazzoni Center, with 40 percent of participants being first-time visitors. This year, Drop-In has had a total of 922 visits so far.

The majority of youth attending Drop-In are youth of color (30 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, 12 percent other race and 2 percent Native American), and most are uninsured (47.5 percent). When it comes to gender, 31 percent are cis female, 27 percent are trans males, 23 percent are cis male and 20 percent are trans females. This explains why requests for trans-related care are the most popular service (37 percent), with sexual health representing the second-most requested at Drop-In (29 percent).

Increasing the accessibility of services that Mazzoni Center can provide to youth has been a key reason why we have more than 1,600 youth accessing medical services each year.

“We are always looking to expand our services to best meet the evolving needs of our youth,” McBride said. “If folks can think of a service that they would like to see offered at Drop-In, we always welcome suggestions.”

For more information about Adolescent Drop-In Clinic, visit  

Sean Laughlin is the communications coordinator at Mazzoni Center.