The city’s only LGBT health clinic received more room to grow and offer community events and access to free medical services in downtown Arlington.
Staff with HELP Center for LGBT Health and Wellness envisioned hosting events for locals, including nearby UT Arlington students, when they opened their clinic at 200 E. Division St. in 2018. The clinic, however, quickly outgrew its space, especially during the height of the pandemic.
The HELP Center, founded in 1994 in Fort Worth, has served more than 2,000 patients out of its Arlington location and handed out over $20 million in medical services at no cost, center CEO DeeJay Johannessen said. The organization is one of the few that offers free prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis, two vital treatments in preventing HIV infection.
The organization’s new space at 602 E. South St. marks the latest expansion for a nearly 30-year-old organization centered in Fort Worth in Arlington, and a shift in mindsets that has allowed the group to grow. The center includes a 2,500 square-foot community space for meetings and events.
Johannessen said Arlington leaders, including some 2017 council members, were critical when the center sought out its initial Arlington location. In contrast, several council members and Mayor Jim Ross participated in the center’s ribbon cutting Wednesday.
“The fact of the matter is Arlington, Texas, has changed,” Johannessen said. “Not only 20 years ago when I started here, but in the last four years.”
Johannessen and the center have worked with city leaders to create more equitable municipal policies. The collaborative efforts came to a head over the summer, when council members unanimously approved an anti-discrimination ordinance shielding members of protected classes, plus sexual orientation and gender identity, from discrimination in employment, housing and access to public services. The council also approved updates to the fair housing ordinance to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
The city and HELP Center’s efforts helped boost the city’s score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, an annual report gauging city acceptance and equitable policies, from 63 to 100. When Johannessen began working with the city on raising its score in 2013, Arlington had received a score of 11.
The changes, as well as a summer council proclamation declaring June Pride Month, were not without detractors. Several residents during Ross’ first council session as mayor opposed the proclamation. Ross on Wednesday recalled sitting down with some of the residents and ultimately told them they did not share the same vision of Arlington.
“What y’all have done here, what y’all did over there, is exactly the type of vision that makes me proud to be a part of Arlington,” Ross said.
The center’s new building is dedicated to HELP Center’s three founders, Memie Hardie, Mary Fulbright and Dr. Rita Cotterly, who opened the clinic in Fort Worth when localities were less accepting of LGBT services. Hardie credited Johannessen with the center’s continued success.
“When we started the organization, we could barely pay our bills. I mean, we couldn’t pay our bills. We didn’t have any bills because we couldn’t do anything,” Hardie said. “It’s just amazing what DeeJay has done, and he’s done it all.”
Those interested in HELP Center services can schedule an appointment in Arlington or Fort Worth at helpcentertx.org or by calling 817-332-7722.