Triangle Square in Hollywood
(UPDATE 3/15) Perhaps it was the confluence of news that The Center in New York City was closing on Friday, March 13 due to the coronavirus, coupled with the announcement by the Los Angeles LGBT Center that it was cancelling its April 18 premier food and wine event, Simply diVine, but somehow the idea wafted up from nowhere that the LA LGBT Center was closing.
Both California Gov. Newsom and LA County have declared states of emergencies following the outbreak of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. But the Hollywood-based Center, with more than 42,000 visits a month and 700 employees providing free and low-cost services from cradle to old age, is too vital to shut down.
“We are making preparations for worse case scenarios but no, we simply could not take this kind of action,” Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings tells the Los Angeles Blade. “After all, people live here and get vital services from us on a daily basis. People need food, housing, healthcare, medications and so many other services so closing entirely is out of the question.
“We may find alternative methods of providing some or many of our services and we can implement those changes as the circumstances warrant,” says Cummings. “We have cancelled or postponed events like Simply diVine and our production of “HAIR” but, of course, these are not essential services so they can be cancelled without causing harm or hardship.”
The annual Simply diVine event, this year scheduled for April 18 at Hollywood Forever, draws more than a thousand guests – but public health guidelines ban all gatherings of over 250 people.
“As this pandemic evolves, we will continue to evaluate and navigate what protocols are needed to ensure the well-being of our clients and community based on state and local public health recommendations,” says Cummings, noting – as have other non-profits – that the events bring in revenue that supports programs for which a demand remains.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that our services continue, particularly at a time when the need is so great,” he says. “As many of our supporters who have been part of Simply diVine through the years know, the care and well-being of our community is at the forefront of the Center’s work and is really the driving force behind the event.”
All events are now under scrutiny, driven by science, community response and Newsom’s public health directive, Cummings says.
Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings at opening of Anita May Rosenstein Campus in April 2019 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
And, adds the Chief of Staff at the world’s largest LGBT-specific organization, the Center has a commitment to LGBTQ seniors living at Triangle Square and the 100 youth without a home at their Anita May Rosenstein campus – both at risk for the coronavirus.
“For us, the primary client concerns are 1) those who are healthcare patients and who come to our McDonald/Wright building for a variety of healthcare services, 2) our senior services which include residents of Triangle Square but also the many others who come to the Campus for programs, meals, etc. and 3) our programs for youth that includes our drop in center services and housing through our emergency overnight beds and transitional living program,” Cummings says.
“The good news is that we now have tests on site and are prepared to administer those both at our clinic site but also off site at our other facilities. We have been providing, almost on a daily basis, the most up to date information to our staff and clients about the preventative measures they can take to protect themselves and others,” he says. “We have been following the guidelines for congregate care and living issued by the department of public health and the CDC and have plans in place for appropriately reacting to any identified case that we may identify in the clinic or at our other facilities, especially those in our seniors and youth programs. We are prepared, as best we can be, to provide testing and any needed isolation.”
(UPDATE from Cummings: “We have been getting lots of calls from the community asking for testing. While we have testing kits on site, the lab has limited capacity so we are unable to provide testing generally at this point. Maybe that will change as capacity, etc. increases, but at the moment, this is the situation and I don’t want to mislead people.”)
Center administrators are encouraging people (staff and clients) who are exhibiting symptoms, “not to come to our services and to call us or their medical provider for counsel,” says Cummings. “Obviously, we have masks and hand sanitizers throughout although these things can be in short supply so we have lots on back-order.
“We have established a COVID-19 management team that is meeting and talking on a very regular basis so we can act on or react to developments as they happen and are just assuming that the numbers of those identified with the virus will grow dramatically as more and more are tested.”
Darrel Cummings has a long history of healthcare activism; he’s pictured here, on the right, with LA Gay & Lesbian Center Executive Director Lorri Jean giving a tour to Clinton’s first AIDS Czar Kristin Gebbie in 1993. Diane Abbitt and Dr. Scott Hitt in the back. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Amidst the concern and developing of precaution plans, Cummings also quietly advised LGBTQ leaders in Wuhan, China, the site of the origin of the coronavirus, extending the impact of one of the Center’s least known but apparently highly impactful programs. Cummings says:
“The leader of the Wuhan LGBT Center is a graduate of the LA Center’s Chinese Emerging Leaders Program and has done remarkable work, along with a team of 7 staff and many volunteers in Wuhan China, Hubei Province. When the novel coronavirus hit that City and province of 56 million people, activities of every kind halted and people were confined to their homes with only limited ability to leave for groceries. Virtually all transportation was halted and no one was allowed to enter or exit the area. All of this remains true today.
Unfortunately, the entire staff of the Wuhan Center was to arrive in LA in February to participate in a special organizational development program we had created but were obviously unable to leave China. Instead, and as a result of the relationships they have developed with the local CDC and within the community, they were able to gain permission from health authorities to help make sure that people living with HIV/AIDS who could not leave their homes were able to get their HIV medications.
The Wuhan Center staff and approved volunteers travel each day to the hospital that treats those with HIV and that also now treats people with coronavirus to meet with doctors, get prescriptions written, pick up pharmaceuticals, and mail or deliver them to now 1,500 people.
Throughout this process the Wuhan Center consulted with us and identified barriers to this work as they arose. The most recent being with the police who were increasingly stopping the staff and volunteers from traveling or entering apartment buildings since they had not been credentialed by police authorities to be moving about publicly. With a kind of determination that is familiar to many of us, they were able to finally win approval by the police to continue their work.
In the epicenter of what is now a global pandemic that is provoking cancellations and closings of all kinds here in the United States, the Wuhan Center did not close. They shifted. They recognized a serious community need and they doggedly worked to make sure that need was met.
This is what we, as an LGBT community, have always done. It is why the LA Center will not close. Our friends in Wuhan who have looked to us for inspiration and learning are now inspiring, teaching, and reminding us of who we are and the value of being out and open.”
Cummings sent an addendum:
Haojie, our program grad and ED of the Wuhan Center, posted this just now on Facebook. Remarkable.
9 hrs ·
As of the end of October 2018, Hubei province reported 19,166 cases of live HIV infections and patients, affected by the new crown pneumonia epidemic, all cities in Hubei province have taken strict traffic control and district closure measures, HIV infected people are at risk of outage after they are unable to receive antivirus medicines in time.
Wuhan comrades center provides consultation services to aids patients via phone and internet platforms, forming a loving convoy to take aids patients to and from hospital for medical treatment. They go to jinyintan hospital every day. To help aids people get medicines on their behalf, volunteers need to classify and pack drugs overnight or even overnight.
As of March 9, 2020, the team had received more than 4000 AIDS patients who successfully helped nearly 2200 infected people access HIV medication.