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  • Sep 29, 2021

A Safe Space to Come Out

Sarah Swettberg (she/her/hers), a queer-identifying Nurse Practitioner at Cambridge Teen Health Center, answers questions to kick off National Coming Out Day on October 11th.

By Trisha Lauryn Kibugi (she/her/hers), CHA Undergraduate HERlab Intern (2021).

Why do you work with young people?

"I love working with young people because they have authenticity and passion which paves the way for incredible, honest conversations about their health decisions. The key to connecting with youth is bringing your authentic self."

How do you talk about identity and supporting intersectional identities?

"I always introduce myself:

Hi I’m Sarah. I use she/her pronouns. What’s your name (because I know that this may be different than what is documented in the chart)? What pronouns do you use?

This sets the stage for patients to understand we care about their identity, and while these questions may seem trivial to cis patients, it makes an incredible impact to those who identify as queer or non-binary. It’s not just a nice way to start a visit, it’s an important one. Starting with this question normalizes the use of pronouns no matter one’s gender identity.

It’s important not to silo people’s identities. What makes patients comfortable about their sexual and gender identity goes beyond just asking this introductory question. It’s the rainbow lanyard, the pronoun badge, use of non-gendered health language, and not making assumptions about a person’s identity or who their partners are."

What’s the best way to handle someone coming out to you?

"Thank the person for sharing that piece of themselves with you. Let them lead the conversation. Ask them if they feel safe and supported where they live and go to school."

Do you have any tips for families and school administrators on supporting a young person coming out?

"Lead with love. It takes so much courage to go against societal norms and all this person needs is someone in their corner. Even if you don’t know the right thing to say, make it clear that you are there to support them."

How do queer patients know this is a healthcare space for them?

"Cambridge Teen Health Center, along with the two additional Teen Health Centers in Somerville and Everett, are youth-centered places. We use open and inclusive language, have queer-affirming posters, wear rainbow landyards and pronoun badges, and have gender-neutral bathrooms. Young people tell their friends that it’s a safe space and the word is out."

What are the benefits of having Cambridge Teen Health Center and other health facilities be open and inclusive spaces?

“Ensuring that our patients feel safe and welcome is critically important in terms of providing mental and physical health care. When someone feels completely comfortable talking about their gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or sexual health practices then I can provide the most appropriate health care based on this information. The services we provide are absolutely dependent on how safe a person feels.”

Does CHA have space for a queer-affinity group?

“Yes. I love that I can go there whenever. It’s a fun social group.”

Sarah Swettberg, APRN, ensures safe spaces for young LGBTQ+ people. The Teen Health Center model is unique given it is a primary care facility embedded within a high school. Anyone 12 - 24 can receive care. Sarah provides a range of services such as physicals, immunizations and free confidential sexual healthcare which includes birth control, counseling, STD testing, and treatment. Mental health counseling is also available.

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