Over 200 LGBTQ+ people receive COVID-19 vaccine at WWCC

The William Way LGBT Community Center.

William Way LGBT Community Center, in partnership with Philadelphia FIGHT, held a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on April 6 for Philadelphia LGBTQ+ community members in categories 1A and 1B. Over 200 people received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Ally Richman, William Way’s chief operating officer, organized the event in conjunction with Philadelphia FIGHT’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination program, directed by Jennifer Wright, other FIGHT staff and SunRay Pharmacy. This marks the seventh clinic that FIGHT has executed in partnership with SunRay and the first in Center City Philadelphia.  

“FIGHT was born in a deadly epidemic to make sure communities hardest hit were supported, and we have the same approach to this deadly epidemic,” FIGHT Chief of Staff Mike Marsico said in an email. “That is why FIGHT wanted to make sure the LGBT community among other communities are vaccinated in a safe and [accessible] space.”

In terms of safety, “we took quite a bit of responsibility to make sure people were taken care of,” William Way Executive Director Chris Bartlett said. Entry into the building was limited to a certain number of people at a time, and registration, vaccine administration and the post-vaccine waiting period were held in separate rooms. Organizers provided hand sanitizer, required the use of masks and sanitized all surfaces after use.  

“Everyone was really friendly and it was very efficient,” Ash Cheshire said in an email. “William Way is a great org and it’s really great that they did that for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Folks who were vaccinated on April 6 will return to William Way at the end of the month for their second shot. Although plans are still being finalized, William Way and FIGHT are organizing a separate community vaccination day on April 28, considering Philadelphia is expanding eligibility to all adults beginning April 19, as will Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

According to Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, the city has administered first doses of vaccine to 556,000 people, and have fully vaccinated 318,000 people as of April 5. Although many of those people are not Philadelphia residents, at least 25% of residents have had at least one dose of vaccine, Farley said. COVID-19 cases have been rising in Philadelphia in recent weeks. As of the week ending April 3, the city averaged 507 coronavirus cases per day. 

Although no one seeking the vaccine at William Way was questioned about their LGBTQ identity, “it was clear that there were a lot of queer people in the line,” Bartlett said. “I think that’s because people trust both William Way and FIGHT to create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQ people, that we’ve done our cultural competency work.” 

Earlier this year, Mazzoni Center organized a vaccine drive for residents of the John C. Anderson Apartments, all of whom are low-income and elderly.

“It helps to have these culturally competent clinics so that LGBTQ people are both still cared about, and they have a place to go where they will be treated respectfully and given the service that they deserve,” Bartlett added. 

The folks at William Way have been engaging in several community partnerships lately, including collaborations with Food Not Bombs and the organization SELF, which provides housing and case management for individuals experiencing homelessness. 

“[Those are] opportunities where I feel like we’re connecting to the community in really powerful ways,” Bartlett said. “In all three of these examples, we’re really meeting the survival needs of LGBTQ people, whether that’s making sure they stay immune to COVID, or making sure they have food or housing. I feel like the center has really stepped up to address those life and death issues.”

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.