Philanthropy Friday: AccessMatters Works to Promote Sexual Health in Underserved Communities of Philadephia


Every Friday we spotlight a local LGBT nonprofit in Philadelphia. This week, AccessMatters, a local organization working to promote sexual and reproductive health for individuals, families and communities.

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AccessMatters President and CEO Melissa Weiler Gerber and Jermel Wallace, senior manager of the organization’s LGBT Health Initiatives.

Who are you? Melissa Weiler Gerber, president and CEO of AccessMatters, and Jermel Wallace, senior manager of AccessMatters’ LGBT Health Initiatives. For more than 40 years, our organization has been working to successfully eliminate economic, social, cultural, and geographic barriers to care for more than 200,000 people annually in southeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. Through research, training, delivery of evidenced-based programs, community engagement and advocacy, AccessMatters is leading the way in transforming access to sexual and reproductive health.

When was AccessMatters founded?  AccessMatters, formerly Family Planning Council, was founded in 1972. Our LGBT Health Initiatives, formerly known in the community as “SafeGuards,” began in 1989.

What is AccessMatters’ shining moment, to date: During our strategic planning process, stakeholders saw AccessMatters as a natural leader in advocating for sexual and reproductive health. Our strategic plan embraces advocacy as a core strategy for achieving our mission. Recently, we have increased our commitment to focus on advocacy work. This year, we are proud to launch our first-ever policy and advocacy framework to advance sexual and reproductive health priorities in the region, in Pennsylvania, and nationally. This ambitious framework includes several pieces that have heightened significance in our work to address LGBT health disparities. These include protecting and expanding public funding for sexual and reproductive health programs; promoting awareness around anti-bullying, sexual orientation, and gender identity; and promoting health equity for all through policies that support LGBT rights and health status, and protect confidentiality and patient privacy. Advocacy builds our capacity to frame our future in a changing healthcare environment, and to increase the scope and quality of sexual and reproductive health services.

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If a check for $1 million found its way to our doorstep … we would jump up and down! Then, we would get right to work on growing our LGBT health service model to better serve our consumers and advocating in the halls of Congress and in Harrisburg for the services they need most. Conducting LGBT health disparities research includes health promotion messaging, service delivery models, intimate partner violence, perceived community stigma, and mental health. This research is high priority for AccessMatters and will inform our advocacy work and our program development moving forward. Since many of our consumers are lower income and transient, improving their access to sexual and reproductive health care does matter, and traditional healthcare settings may be out of reach. AccessMatters would establish a mobile space that offers a one-stop shop for health screenings and linkage to care services. We would develop cutting-edge health promotion campaigns and community engagement strategies to enhance LGBT youth and adults access to and use of preventive care services. In addition to expanding our LGBT Health Initiatives, we would also expand our advocacy and communications capacity since there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in this area. In today’s changing healthcare landscape and political climate, public funding is more and more limited. Advocacy is increasingly important. Advocacy and communications are both key to successfully mobilizing the community and policymakers to make change. Increasing our capacity in these areas will help us achieve our long-range goals as we transform access to sexual and reproductive health services. The possibilities are endless!

Special events coming up? In February, AccessMatters’ LGBT Health Initiatives will be hosting two testing events to recognize National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. During the week of February 7th, AccessMatters will offer free testing for HIV and STDs (by appointment only) at AccessMatters’ offices in Center City. For an appointment, call 215-985-6875 or email [email protected]. On February 21st, AccessMatters is hosting “Pleasure Principle,” a free community event about making sex pleasurable and safe in the era of HIV, in partnership with Philly Black Pride at Tabu (200 South 12th Street). The event will be held from 2pm to 4pm and is open to the public. On June 18th, AccessMatters will host the 2nd annual “Leading the Way” Conference at the Doubletree in Philadelphia. “Leading the Way: Increasing Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care” will provide AccessMatters’ health care providers and other health care professionals in the region with new strategies for integrating sexual and reproductive health care services into primary care. Presentations will include a focus on special medical needs and interests of LGBT consumers. For more information or to register, call 215-985-2659.

Are there other ways I can contribute without giving money? Sign up for our email list on our website and receive alerts about opportunities to advocate for increased access to sexual and reproductive health care. You can also volunteer as part of our community outreach team, helping out with street outreach, survey interviewing, or event breakdown and set-up, etc. Anyone interested in volunteering should call 215-985-2600 or email [email protected]. We also always welcome volunteers who are interested in lending a hand in the office preparing condom packets, helping out with other projects, or even representing our organization at a table during a community event.

How can I donate money? You can support our work by making a tax-deductible donation on our website here. You can also mail your donation to: AccessMatters, 1700 Market Street, 18th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19103. Your tax-deductible donation helps us impact lives by transforming access to sexual and reproductive health for everyone. Connect with us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Are you a local LGBT-serving nonprofit that would like to be spotlighted in Philanthropy Friday? Email Samantha Giusti at [email protected].