A mental health nonprofit serving members of the LGBTQ community that has seen unprecedented demand for service during the coronavirus pandemic is holding its first-ever gala event on Thursday. In addition to raising money, the goal of the Queer Asterisk virtual event is to counter isolation, which founders and staff say also is rising in the time of COVID.
Freeda Be, creative director, and Sorin Thomas, executive director, founded Queer Asterisk, a nonprofit mental health provider that pairs LGBTQ clients with clinicians trained in caring for their needs.
Since its founding, Queer Asterisk has opened three offices in Denver, Fort Collins and Longmont. The organization provides queer-informed behavioral therapy, trainings for other providers and community programs, such as support groups and group meditations. Queer Asterisk counseling is offered on a sliding scale payment structure and patients are not denied based on their ability to pay.
Be said she and Thomas, both transgender, understand the needs of of having providers competent or experienced in working with LGTBQ patients.
“The LGBTQ+ community continues to be underserved in many areas of health care and often comes up against providers that are not informed or competent in understanding LGBTQ+ identities and experience,” Be said. “We felt it was important to create a mental health organization led by professionals that have a lived experience of being queer and transgender so that our clients can trust that there is a baseline understanding of their experience before even beginning services.”
When a patient seeks counseling from a provider that doesn’t understand the queer community, Be said they often find themselves having to educate their counselor. Though providers do not need to be a part of the LGBTQ community, patients appreciate sharing a commonality with their counsellor, said Chris Aguilar García, Queer Asterisk director of operations.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Queer Asterisk has moved all of its services to a telehealth platform. Aguilar García said while virtual visits increase accessibility, they present a new challenge for patients who are not living in a safe environment or are not out.
Feelings of isolation are common among LGBTQ individuals, he said, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, request for therapeutic services for Queer Asterisk has increased 500% compared to last year's inquiries.
Members of the LGBTQ community often feel isolated in their homes because they may be the only queer identifying person in their household, Aguilar García said.
“I grew up and everyone in my family was Mexican-American and so in the ways that I knew I was different, I still saw a reflection of that within my home,” Aguilar García said. “With a LGBTQ identity you don’t necessarily have that, and in most cases you don’t.”
That narrative is especially common for LGBTQ youth, he said.
Along with increased feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, anxiety surrounding the presidential election added to mental health concerns for inbound patients. To meet demands Queer Asterisk doubled its clinical staff. Aguilar García said there is a waiting list and Queer Asterisk is actively onboarding to respond to the unprecedented requests.
The nonprofit on Thursday is holding its first gala and fundraising event to support operations and therapeutic services. The Engender: Ribbons of Resilience Gala will be streamed online. Proceeds also will benefit Black Lives Matter 5280.
Rather than asking attendees to purchase tickets, Queer Asteriks wants participants to write an intention for the coming year on a piece of ribbon or fabric and make a suggested $10 donation. The ribbons will be hung at the Boulder office. Aguilar García said the community installation was inspired by the hanging of impermanent materials from different cultures, such as Tibetan prayer flags and Mexican Papel Picado folk art.
The Engender: Ribbons of Resilience Gala preshow will start at 5:30 p.m., with the event wrapping up at 7 p.m. Free registration can be completed online.
The gala is being held on the last day of Transgender Awareness Week, which also is Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance that honors the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence, according to GLAAD.Out Boulder County also will hold a virtual vigil for the lives lost to anti-transgender violence at 6 p.m. Friday.