At The End Of The Rainbow

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For thirty-eight years and counting, Rainbow Health has been helping to improve the lives of thousands of humans affected by HIV/AIDS.

While we have made strides to improve the wellbeing and longevity of folks living with HIV/AIDS, millions of people continue to live with the virus. In one way or another, I believe that we are all impacted by HIV/AIDS—especially within our LGBTQ+ community. So it’s crucial that we all come together to improve the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, and to one day find a cure that works for everyone.

Rainbow Health exists to end HIV and LGBTQ+ health disparities. Thirty-eight years ago, the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) was founded by the first Minnesotans who were impacted by HIV. Today, Rainbow Health continues leading the fight against HIV in Minnesota. 

“We help people navigate healthcare systems by breaking down barriers, for LGBTQ+ people, those affected by HIV, and others facing barriers to equitable health care,” says Jeremy Hanson Willis, CEO of Rainbow Health. “For 38 years, we have upheld this mantle to improve the lives of thousands affected by HIV. In 2018, MAP merged with Rainbow Health Initiative, a long-standing LGBTQ+ health education and research organization, and Training to Serve, a trusted program supporting the needs of older LGBTQ+ Minnesotans. Formerly JustUs Health, now we are Rainbow Health—a diverse team of professionals united by a passion for health equity. While our name has changed, our purpose has not. We want every person to be cared for and respected and will fight to make that happen.”

Hanson Willis joined Rainbow Health in 2019, following a 15-year career in city and state government, and previous advocacy work with MAP and OutFront MN in the late 1990s.

Photo courtesy of Rainbow Health

“As a gay man who came out amidst the early HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1993, I feel deeply connected to Rainbow Health’s legacy and mission,” he says. “In a multi-racial family, I’m grateful to be in an organization dedicated to racial justice. It feels like coming home. During my two years here, I’ve grown incredibly proud of the passionate team of staff and board I get to work with every day.”

The organization was founded in 1983 by a group of volunteers, and it eventually became Minnesota’s largest AIDS service organization. Its growth has allowed it to become more specialized and comprehensive, serving the community and adapting and changing to the evolving HIV/AIDS epidemic and other LGBTQ+ health inequities.

“While our roots have always been in the LGBTQ+ community, we’ve arguably changed the most in the past three years when we broadened our LGBTQ+-centered services beyond HIV and tobacco cessation with the launch of our mental health program, MNSure navigation, COVID-19 hotline, and aging adult initiatives,” Willis says. “We’ve also become increasingly involved in and see our work as advancing health equity for all who experience barriers to healthcare because of their identity as a racial, sexual, or gender minority. HIV has always been a disease fueled by injustice, and we believe we have an important perspective and voice to offer the growing health equity movement. Like many organizations serving Black, Indigenous, and people of color, we’re deepening our commitment to being an antiracist organization internally and externally.”

With more than 20 programs, Rainbow Health offers services in four key areas, Willis notes:

  1. We work to end HIV by building on our four-decade legacy of providing the most comprehensive array of wrap-around services for people with HIV in Minnesota. We know that the only way to end HIV is to end health disparities for LGBTQ+ folks, BIPOC, and all marginalized people. That’s why we employ a comprehensive approach that targets the root causes behind health and HIV, like housing, finances, insurance and social connection. 
  2. We offer unique and specialized mental and chemical health services of, by, and for the communities we serve. Our care is trauma-informed, harm-reduction based, sex-positive, and meets people where they are. We turn no one away for inability to pay. 
  3. We work to empower people on the margins with relevant information and connection to resources that allow them to lead healthier lives. Our legacy of fighting HIV and LGBTQ+ health disparities have given us insight and experience that we can bring to the broader movement for health equity. In this area, we center LGBTQ+ and HIV communities with programs targeting sexual health, substance use, tobacco use and COVID-19. 
  4. We educate and train health care and senior care providers about how to deliver better care for the diversity of LGBTQ+ and HIV communities through a lens of intersectionality. Rainbow Health works to ensure that all people should be able to go to any clinic, any hospital, any treatment center, and receive quality care that respects who you are as a whole person.   

“For too long, health care systems have erased and excluded LGBTQ+ people, especially trans/nonbinary and people of color,” Willis says. “As Minnesota’s first HIV/AIDS organization, we’ve seen firsthand the dangerous combination of disease and injustice. The intertwining pandemics of racism and COVID-19 more recently have shined a brighter light on the deep disparities in our health care system, and the resulting gaps in the health of our people. In the world of health care and related industries, we are a voice for those who have been erased and excluded.”

At Pride 2021, Rainbow Health launched a new free tele-PrEP clinic where folks can get online doctor visits, at-home testing, PrEP prescribed and delivered to their door for free. 

“It’s a great opportunity to get the pill that prevents HIV free in the privacy and convenience of your home, plus STI screening,” Willis adds. 

Also, Rainbow Health just released an important and insightful COVID-19 report in partnership with Family Tree Clinic, as well as a new LGBTQ+ Caregiver Support Group and Trans and Non-Binary Elder Social Club. These groups, and other upcoming events, can all be found at rainbowhealth.org/events

“We’re excited to once again host the 2021 Walk to End HIV on October 9th at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis,” Willis says. “Through the years, the walk has raised more than $15 million for our education, prevention, and empowerment services for those living with and affected by HIV. We hope that one day this walk won’t be needed. Let’s come together now to make that a reality. Register to walk or learn how to virtually support this year’s event at MNWalkToEndHIV.org.”

For more information about Rainbow Health, visit rainbowhealth.org.

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