By Mary Ford and Rachel Wolfgang
The Planned Parenthood Ithaca Health Center is illuminated all night long. A sign outside emphasizes this by saying “Our doors never close.” On Nov. 30, a sign for the Happy HoliGays celebration was placed in the foyer to tell attendees to press the intercom button to their left in order to be buzzed upstairs.
A warm glow emanated from the education center on the second floor of the Planned Parenthood Ithaca Health Center. A couple of people sat on the floor as they worked on their coloring pages. A few others helped themselves to pizza, while the rest sat along a table as they conversed. The group then came together around the table to congratulate one person on their recent engagement before playing a board game.
All of these activities were a part of the second annual Happy HoliGays celebration, held Nov. 30 at the Planned Parenthood Ithaca Health Center at 620 W. Seneca St. The event was part of the Night Out event series hosted by Planned Parenthood, which “provides outreach, education, and information to LGBT people, their health care providers, and the community-at-large about the importance of inclusive, welcoming, and respectful care for LGBT people,” according to the event’s Facebook page. Night Out events are held every other month. The Happy HoliGays celebration itself was an opportunity for community members to connect during the holiday season.
Ithaca College alumna Kendra Lin attended the event, and she said there was a lot of laughter and sharing of stories. She said the event embodied her experience with Planned Parenthood over the years.
“They do their work out of a sense of genuine care for others,” Lin said. “I very much appreciate their public support for people of all genders and orientations receiving support and medical care.”
Emma Cohen Westbrooke ’12 has been working with Planned Parenthood in Ithaca for the past two-and-a-half years since graduating from Ithaca College, and she is currently the senior educator of the Ithaca location. She explained that Planned Parenthood seeks to provide services and a safe space to young adults and adults of the LGBT community.
“Our goal in general with our LGBTQ programming through our education department is to decrease social isolation,” Westbrooke said. “We find that when LGBTQ teens and adults are connected to a support group and a community, their health gets better, their mental health gets better.”
According to the Williams Institute, approximately 9 million Americans identify as LGBT. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately four in 10 LGBT adults are members of LGBT organizations.
Westbrooke said different individuals have attended each Night Out event. She attributed this trend to how the events have been advertised through Ithaca College and Cornell University as well as social media platforms such as Facebook.
Planned Parenthood also reaches out to other colleges and universities, including Wells College in Aurora, New York. Chandler Smith, a junior philosophy major at Wells College, said information provided by Planned Parenthood is essential to the Women’s Resource Center at Wells College.
“Otherwise, we would just have a series of outdated pamphlets dating back to, in some cases, the ’70s and ’80s,” Smith said. “Being able to bring that education back to Wells [has] instituted a growing force of knowledge for queer health at our school.”