While plans to open an LGBT-focused health and wellness clinic in Tucson are slightly delayed due to construction permit issues, the clinic is moving forward, according to Joe Nutini, Living Out Loud Health and Wellness Center program coordinator with CODAC Behavioral Health Services. In March, CODAC announced that early this summer the organization planned to open Living Out Loud in a space on Broadway Boulevard near Country Club. The delay means doors hopefully opening the end of summer or early fall. Nutini sat down with the Tucson Weekly to talk about how the idea came forward.
How did this come to be? What motivated this?
This has been something that's been discussed a lot in Tucson since I've been here, which is the last 15 years. When I was a young one, first coming out as trans, I would go to meetings and folks would be talking about their health care experiences. We knew about other clinics in other cities that were providing outstanding health care for members of the LGBT community and we wondered how we could build something like that in Tucson. But people would try to start something and it didn't happen. Then I went to graduate school (for an MSW at ASU) and one of my hopes was to start a discussion on how to create this kind of program in Tucson.
What will the clinic look like when it opens?
What I kept hearing from potential clients is that they want to go to a relaxing place with a spa-like feel. That's happening. And we're doing more research on what programs will be available. We want LGBT-affirming care, a space people can call their own. And that's what we are trying to do. But first, this month and next month, we're going to ask the community at a series of forums what they want to see there. I mean, I know what I want to see there, and I know what a few other people want to see there, but we need to hear from others in the community what they want to see.
I imagine there will be docs on staff, but what do you think it will look like?
I know that within CODAC itself, besides the recovery coaches and therapists on behavioral, we're also going to have a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I think we're talking to Pima County Health to have HIV medical care and find the right person. We also want to have someone who is willing to prescribe hormones to transgender people and someone to provide proper care. Someone you don't have to educate or at least someone willing to hear from a member of the community that what they said was insensitive and that they are willing to work as a team. Sometimes that can be a little hard. That was one of the motivators. When I worked with youth that's what I would hear—their stories of trying to find the right doctor or someone who understood what they were going through. We're trying to change that, level the playing field and eliminate the barriers.
What kind of experiences do people have out there?
On a more simple level it's hard to find people to refer people to. There are some awesome practitioners in this town, but they are full. That's been one of the biggest challenges. People are coming from Phoenix to Tucson to get services because we have amazing doctors and therapists here. But they are full.
You might get full too, no?
I've asked that question. But we're in a position where if there is a demand from the community, we will hire more people. There are pros and cons to all things in life. One of the pros in being part of a large nonprofit organization is that we have the ability to do that. We're not looking to make any money, but keep building and growing and be there for the community.
Why is CODAC so open to supporting this idea?
The management at CODAC are the most awesome straight allies I have ever met. I don't know if the universe made it this way. When the Alliance Fund gave us funding, they called me in to the office, and said "Joe, we got the funding." and they were really excited. They said, "We feel blessed and honored that they trusted us and that they see that we've been working so hard to be LGBT inclusive after all these years."