by Abby Ong
For those navigating LGBTQ+ sexual health, positive educational experiences are rare and clinical access even more so. Entering the doors of the Kind Clinic is like walking into an alternate dimension where health care is provided from a sex-positive, LGBTQ-centered framework. The Kind Clinic is a nonprofit that provides free testing and treatment for HIV and other STIs, access to PrEP and PEP, and gender-affirming care. All of the workers are well-versed in LGBTQ+ issues and trained to use non-stigmatizing language. The clinic is a program of Texas Health Action, the parent organization that also operates TeleKIND, a telemedicine sexual health service. The Kind Clinic has multiple locations throughout Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas.
Due to the deep stigmatization of sexual health, generations of Texans have grown up with abstinence-only sex education, discouraged from seeking care and informational resources. Although I received a slightly more comprehensive sex education at my local Austin high school, the curriculum lacked detail and remained very heteronormative. Topics of LGBTQ+ health and wellness were lucky to be granted a single slide in passing.
When I learned about the Kind Clinic, it was almost too good to wrap my head around. Although I grew up primarily in Austin, I never heard of the Kind Clinic until I came to college. It’s difficult to find accessible, gender-affirming, and non-stigmatizing sexual health care in Texas, and I was amazed by their work in the community. I’d heard positive things from friends who utilized their resources, and I jumped at the opportunity to intern with them.
As a third-year Health & Society major pursuing a minor in Health Communication and a certificate in LGBTQ+ Studies, my interests are primarily focused on the disparities in health amongst racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities. Access to health care is extremely important to me, and I hope to later pursue a Masters of Public Health. My time at the Kind Clinic has been the perfect way for me to see these interests represented in tangible community-based work.
This past semester, I worked as an Outreach & Testing Intern at their Koenig walk-in clinic. Throughout my time at the Kind Clinic, the importance of culturally-aware positive sexual health and gender-affirming care has been reinforced regularly. My first few days working with the clinic were spent doing hours of trainings that encompassed topics from the basics of STIs to gender diversity training to people-first language. From the beginning, these trainings reinforced the ideals of the Kind Clinic and all the ways that we can be kind.
After I completed the trainings, I began assisting with checking-in patients, working in the laboratory, counting condoms, and calling patients. Checking-in patients really showed the wide range of people that seek sexual health care when it is made accessible. It was incredibly rewarding to hear patients exclaim their excitement at finding the Kind Clinic and their appreciation of the services and workers. I also helped out in the lab by printing labels, transporting urine samples into tubes, and conducting pregnancy tests. The last task I was given involved calling uninsured patients to see if they wanted to be connected with Pride Insurance, a partner that could connect them to low- to no-cost health insurance. While it was nerve-wracking handling insurance calls, I had many patients tell me they were grateful for the resource.
The Kind Clinic also provides big tubs of free condoms, dental dams, and lube at the front of the lobby. While it may have been funny to count out thousands of condoms, I was surprised to realize the sheer number of safer-sex supplies the clinic distributes to the public. The clinic’s unabashed approach to sex positivity means that people feel more comfortable taking them, and supplies can be found throughout the testing rooms, bathrooms, and hallways. The clinic also distributed harm reduction kits, which include syringes and bottles for people who inject drugs. Harm reduction aims to reduce the risks and negative consequences associated with drug use, such as disease transmission. While I’ve been taught the strategies of harm reduction and non-stigmatizing language in classes, seeing it in practice drove home the ways that public health and health care workers can impact cultural norms. Drug users deserve, and get, help avoiding disease at the Kind Clinic.
At regular health clinics, LGBTQ+ people are often forced to become their own advocates for their health. While it is important that everyone have a voice in their health care, it can be exhausting to deal with ill-informed questions about sexual partners, fight for gender-affirming care, and run the risk of facing a homophobic or transphobic practitioner.
The Kind Clinic seeks to address these barriers to health. The walk-in clinic provides free testing and treatment in a non-stigmatizing manner. The Kind Clinic also does mobile outreach to LGBTQ+ spaces around Austin, focusing on reaching low-income, minority populations with their services. At UT, the Kind Clinic offers free walk-in testing at the Gender and Sexuality Center every Tuesday. They also look to connect their patients to other resources they may need, such as access to insurance, telehealth, therapy, and referrals to LGBTQ+ friendly primary care providers.
The impact of the work being done by the Kind Clinic is immeasurable. Not only are they providing access to care, they are shifting cultural norms around sex and stigma.
Abby Ong (she/her) is a third-year Health & Society major at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing a minor in Health Communications and a certificate in LGBTQ+ studies. Since her first year at UT, Abby has coordinated campus-wide health messaging and social norms work as a student assistant at the Longhorn Wellness Center. Alongside membership in other organizations, she serves as a Co-Founder and an Operations Director of (un)Jaded and an Advertising Chair of Texas Visual Arts Collective. After her graduation in Fall 2022, Abby plans to pursue a Master of Public Health to further her knowledge and work in the sociobehavioral and environmental impacts on health, disease, and inequities.