Howard Brown Health Center exists to eliminate the disparities in health care experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through research, education and the provision of services that promote health and wellness.
About Howard Brown Health Center
Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) was founded in 1974 and is now one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations. With an annual budget of over $22 million, the agency serves more than 36,000 adults and youth each year in its diverse health and social service delivery system focused around seven major programmatic divisions: primary medical care, behavioral health, research, HIV/STD prevention, youth services, elder services, and community initiatives. HBHC serve men and women, infants, youth, and children through a multi-site operation based in Chicago that includes a main health and research center in the Uptown neighborhood (Sheridan Road), Triad Health Practice in the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center professional building, the Broadway Youth Center, and three Brown Elephant resale shops in Chicago (Lakeview and Andersonville neighborhoods) and Oak Park.
Timeline and Milestones
In the beginning, there was a coffee pot, a portable kitchen table, a room above an old grocery market, and four medical students who were members of the Chicago Gay Medical Students Association (CGMSA), who had a desire to help Chicago’s gay community. The students shared a passion for medicine and research and a philanthropic sense of community and caring. They believed there was a need for a safe and confidential place where gay men and lesbian women could get empathetic psychosocial counseling and sexually transmitted diseases (STD) testing and treatment without political, professional, or personal implications or intrusions.
The medical students met in the room above the grocery store across from Chicago’s Biograph Theater most every night in 1974. With a small budget, a fully volunteer staff, and a growing need and response from the community, the informal, but well-organized clinic was born.
In 1976, the first board formed and named the clinic “Howard Brown Memorial Clinic” after Dr. Howard Brown, an Illinois native, founder of the National Gay Task Force (now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), and a former New York City Public Health Commissioner who helped change the image of gay men and lesbians in the United States by coming out publicly in 1973.
During the late 70s, Howard Brown Health Center providers identified a high rate of hepatitis B among its patients, which led to the agency’s participation in several important studies and vaccine trials of the disease. These studies enabled the organization to hire its first paid staff, allowing the agency to move past the all-volunteer stage of operations. This work resulted in a major scientific breakthrough: the development of the hepatitis B vaccine. The development catapulted HBHC into the national spotlight and gained the organization prominence and respect in the world of research.
When early warning signs of the impending AIDS epidemic became widespread in the early 80s, Howard Brown Health Center was quick to react. Keeping informed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), providers at the agency took an active role in helping to coordinate medical investigation and treatment of the first symptoms, which included a fatal form of cancer. By 1985, HBHC helped to develop and implement the City of Chicago’s AIDS Hotline. The hotline was run mainly through the efforts and contributions of volunteers, 24 hours a day.
In 1983, more than 1,100 sexually active gay and bisexual men volunteered to participate in a groundbreaking study: the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) to identify the causes and transmission of AIDS. HBHC’s participation in the MACS, the longest running HIV study in the world, was funded by the National Institutes of Health and has made significant contributions to understanding the science of HIV, the AIDS epidemic, and the effects of therapy. Many sub-studies came out of the MACS, including evaluations of cardiovascular disease and neuropsychological functioning as it relates to HIV and HAART.
By 1987, AIDS had taken hold of the gay community’s emotional and intellectual collective thinking. Howard Brown Health Center did more than respond in kind; it pioneered the strategy against the war on AIDS by fighting with facts, providing more medical and psychosocial services, and continuing to reach out to all that needed assistance.
In the late 1980s, HBHC opened its first Brown Elephant Resale Shop, with proceeds going directly to help provide care for uninsured and underinsured patients and clients. Today, there are three locations in Chicago and Oak Park. More than 220,000 people visit the Brown Elephant Resale Shops each year seeking great bargains and finds. Annually, the three stores sell almost 750,000 items, generating in excess of $3M – totally dedicated to patient and client care.
Recognized as the “shining example of the work that the gay and lesbian community can accomplish when it sets its mind to doing good,” Howard Brown Health Center was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1991.
The development of services for the entire community has always been at the forefront of Howard Brown Health Center’s mission. HBHC and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center announced an affiliation to help the agency expand primary care services to more clients who are HIV and AIDS impacted, add increased women’s services, and expand mental health care services. In 1992, expanded services for lesbian and bisexual women were announced, and in 1994, Howard Brown Health Center offered the first same-sex parenting clinics in the Midwest.
Ever increasing need for services and programs prompted the board to unanimously vote in 1995 to pursue new building options, and a year-long capital campaign was launched to erect what is now its main Sheridan Road location. Howard Brown Health Center was the first gay and lesbian organization in the Midwest to complete a capital campaign resulting in a $3.5 million state-of-the-art facility.
Mayor Daley attended the groundbreaking ceremony in 1996 for the new facility as HBHC began a new chapter in its history.
October 4, 1997 was the opening day at Howard Brown Health Center’s new facility at 4025 N. Sheridan Road. Included in this state-of-the-art facility was the first in-clinic, full-service Walgreens with pharmacists specializing in HIV/AIDS, and a 10’ x 27’ mosaic in the lobby of the building titled, “A Tradition of Helping: Hull House, Cook County Hospital, Howard Brown Health Center,” the last public work by world renowned artist Roger Brown. In one of his last public appearances before his death, Roger Brown attended the opening ceremony and signed commemorative posters of his work.
Recognizing the need for services to at-risk, homeless, and LGBT youth, Howard Brown Health opened the Broadway Youth Center in 2004, collaborating with community partners Children’s Memorial Hospital, Teen Living, and the Night Ministry. Today, more than twelve community partners and agencies collaborate to provide primary medical care, HIV and STD testing and counseling, confidential family planning, counseling, support groups, case management, housing assistance programs, GED educational and vocational training, and drop-in needs and services such as showers, laundry, and food to youth and young adults throughout Chicago and surrounding suburbs.
The Lesbian Community Cancer Project (LCCP) moved into the Sheridan Road space in 2004, forming a strong partnership which enabled both organizations to better serve the lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) community. LCCP’s education and outreach programs combined with direct-care services at Howard Brown Health Center produce a world-class program for the LBT community. In 2007, the merger became official, and LCCP is now known as the Lesbian Community Care Project, a program of Howard Brown Health Center. Today, LCCP is the women's health heart of HBHC, and is committed to improving the health and wellness of the lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender community through healthcare services, public education, research, and programming.
In 2006, Howard Brown Health Center was selected by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to lead a collaborative effort in developing a new initiative for LGBT and vulnerable older adults. Working with community partners Rush University Medical Center, Heartland Alliance, Council for Jewish Elderly, and Midwest Hospice and Palliative Care, HBHC created a first-of-its-kind comprehensive senior program for isolated, vulnerable, and disadvantaged seniors. Utilizing the combined skills and specific expertise of the partners, this collaboration provides medical care, behavioral healthcare, and social support case management in a single setting. Today, Howard Brown Health Center provides comprehensive primary medical and behavioral health care and wellness services to the elder community throughout Chicago.