Community effort needed to keep Howard Brown open

By Eleanor Blick

Howard Brown Health Center, 4025 N. Sheridan Road, has been a driving force in LGBTQ care for decades. Since it garnered national attention and respect in the late 1970s when it helped develop the hepatitis B vaccine, it has been at the forefront of the fight against HIV and AIDS, expanded its treatment programs to reach 36,000 patients annually and developed LGBTQ support programs for young adults.

Howard Brown recently announced it is in dire financial shape. It has until the end of the year to raise $500,000 or it could be forced to close its doors.

The news threatens more than just Chicago’s LGBTQ population. It threatens to eliminate a standard of health care unparalleled in the LGBTQ community. If one of the largest, most established LGBTQ organizations in the nation can’t find the support it needs to stay open, how can smaller centers for this community find ways to do so? This speaks volumes about the awareness and respect for LGBTQ rights and health care our country still needs to develop.

The center started in 1974 as a small group of volunteers committed to creating an environment for gays and lesbians to get physical and physiological treatment in an open, unassuming environment. Howard Brown was able to hire its first paid staff in the late 1970s when it began studying the hepatitis B virus. It has since grown to include Howard Brown Health Center; TRIAD Health Practice, 3000 N. Halsted St.; and Broadway Youth Center, 3179 N. Broadway.

Its financial woes stem from mismanagement of federal grant funds associated with the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, one of more than 20 studies the center is involved in that could be halted or canceled if enough money isn’t raised. Howard Brown’s board investigated the mismanagement and said the money was likely used to cover other operating costs. However, the center lost $539,000 of its federal grant money to Northwestern University because Northwestern took over MACS.

If Howard Brown were to shut its doors, more than 6,000 people would lose access to their primary source of health care. An estimated 5,000 LGBTQ young people would lose the invaluable, unique services offered at Broadway Youth Center, like counseling sessions, specialized support groups and medical services.

It is essential the LGBTQ community and its supporters work together to keep Howard Brown open. There are many ways to back the center, but the first step is through consciousness. The more people are aware of the center’s significance, the more support it will receive.

Please consider donating to the center. Howard Brown has launched a Lifeline Appeal with the goal of raising $500,000 in 50 days. Every day the center’s website will feature a new Lifeline Story, a video interview with someone who has been touched by the center. On Nov. 10, the center received a challenge from a donor who will match donations up to $100,000 until Nov. 30. The anonymous donor said the center saved his son’s life, according to  As of press time, the center raised more than 30 percent of its goal.

Think of a friend, neighbor or relative who has benefitted from Howard Brown’s services, who might have otherwise been left in the dark. Make a donation on their behalf.

Of course, there are also non-monetary ways to show support for Howard Brown. The center was founded on volunteer work and depends on volunteers to keep operations running. Volunteers do everything from greeting visitors at the center to maintaining the garden.

Sales at Brown Elephant Resale Shops in Lakeview, Andersonville and Oak Park help fund services for Howard Brown’s underinsured and uninsured patients, which account for more than 50 percent of total patients. Drop-off sites located throughout the city take donations to help fill the resale stores.

Staff members at Howard Brown said they are optimistic the donation goal will be reached. But the center can’t get and stay there without the support of a compassionate community, conscious of the center’s continuing and incomparable impact.