The Prism Provider Directory: Bridging the Gap

Image of a multicolored crowd

When Lisa’s* child, K, then 14, shared that they were questioning their sexual orientation and gender identity, she wasn’t quite sure how to respond. But instead of downplaying or dismissing this news, Lisa, a single mom, asked to learn more. Over the next year, Lisa and K had many conversations as K explored their identity. When they were ready, K came out to Alicia as non-binary, changed their name, and asked to be referred to using they/them pronouns.

From the beginning, Lisa has been accepting and supportive of K but the journey isn’t without its challenges. Lisa and K live in a multi-generational household and K is not yet fully out to other members of the family. In addition, because they live in a small, especially conservative area of El Paso County, there are no nearby resources and few people Lisa can talk to without outing her child. The lack of resources in the area became especially apparent when Lisa began looking for a mental health care professional to help K cope with high levels of school-related anxiety.

Finding a mental health care provider can be a challenge for anyone, especially since the pandemic. For Lisa, finding a local LGBTQ+-affirming provider who worked with teens was like looking a needle in a haystack. It was not something she was not willing to compromise on, however. “As a parent, all you care about is your child’s safety. I can’t express enough how scary it is to trust your nonbinary child to a mental health provider without knowing that information,” she says. “They could cause so much damage.”

In her search, she found that few directories indicated whether the providers worked with those in the LGBTQ+ community. That meant she would have to call countless providers directly and ask them. Not only was it a time-consuming task, it felt unsafe. Around the same time, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was heating up. Certain states, like Texas, were introducing laws that would prosecute parents who helped their children access gender-affirming care. Lisa worried that sharing her name and needs with unknown providers could put her family at risk should the political winds change in Colorado.

The Hate State

Lisa’s experience with finding an affirming health care provider is all too common, especially in southern Colorado. Decades of discrimination have created wide gaps in mental and physical health care for the LGBTQ+ community. The most well-known example occurred in 1992, when 53% of voters approved Amendment 2 in 1992. The measure amended the state constitution to make it illegal to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Soon, Colorado became known as “the hate state” nationwide.

The US Supreme Court struck down Amendment 2 in 1996, but discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community continues to grow. In 2023 alone, 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have become law across the country. Discrimination has become something of a haven state in the wake of these bills, bias and hate still regularly shows up in many ways, from the horrific attack on Club Q to simply ignoring the community’s needs. In Colorado Springs, where Amendment 2 originated, access to affirming providers and safe places to gather are especially difficult, taking a toll on the health and wellbeing of those who call this place home.

Listening to Community. Responding to Need.

Transforming adeeply ingrained system marked by neglect and discrimination necessitates a new kind of leadership and a different way of thinking and
working. Fortunately, Rachel Keener, hired by CHP in 2022 to spearhead its innovative LGBTQIA2+ Health Equity initiative, embodies these qualities.

Rachel embraces CHP’s commitment to systems change and collective impact, emphasizing inclusivity, equitable power dynamics, and meaningful
partnerships. To help drive the work, she formed a Community Advisory Council (CAC), comprised of members of the LGBTQ+ community and loved ones with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

Rachel and the CAC began by conducting asset mapping to determine what was already available and where there were gaps. It was immediately clear that huge gaps existed, especially in access to care. As a result of the group’s collaboration, the idea of creating an affirming provider directory emerged.

“Nothing we found in the asset mapping was surprising,” Rachel says, “but we needed data to help us determine our biggest priorities.” To gather that data, the group created a needs assessment that would be distributed to El Paso County’s LGBTQ+ community. Taking this step to listen to and learn from those directly affected would help ensure that priorities and solutions were firmly rooted in the community’s actual needs.

Just as the needs assessment was on the verge of launch, the community was rocked by the bias-motivated mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado springs. In response, CHP paused the needs assessment to provide support to Inside Out Youth Services, the frontline organization in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Yet, it soon became evident that the shooting not only created new challenges but exacerbated existing ones. Understanding the evolving needs of the community became more critical than ever.

Upon resuming the assessment, the community’s response was overwhelming, with over 400 individuals participating. The data corroborated what CHP and the CAC already knew — the community encountered formidable barriers and discrimination in accessing equitable healthcare. In response, development of the affirming provider directory kicked into high gear.

Seen. Heard. Valued.

Dara Hoffman is a licensed professional counselor who has served the local trans and nonbinary community for over 17 years. Through both personal and professional experience, Dara has seen the need for a trusted affirming provider directory since they moved to Colorado Springs in 1997. “Care provider situations are so vulnerable, whether it’s mental or physical health. So the need for trust and safety is exponential, Dara says. “Because of that, people have been craving a directory so badly but no one had made it a priority,” Dara says.

That changed in 2022, when Dara was invited to join the CAC. “Very quickly the group brought up the need for a provider directory and there was a lot of co-creation around what it would include,” they remember.

When the tragedy at Club Q took place, CHP offered Dara a role as LGBTQ+ Health Navigator and they later transitioned into the role of LGBTQ+ Health Equity Manager after Rachel was promoted to Senior Manager of Health Equity. Over the last year, Dara has been responsible for compiling and vetting a list of local mental health providers who expressed an interest in serving the community after Club Q. To be eligible for inclusion, each provider’s background and experience is individually assessed. This list, which was initially a way to offer resources to survivors, became the basis for the provider directory.

To build the directory, CHP found partners and allies in Chris and Jenny Schell, owners of local marketing strategy and storytelling studio, Design Rangers. As parents of a transgender daughter, Chris and Jenny have a deep connection to the need and to the project. Like Lisa, they began the search for gender-affirming mental and medical providers after their daughter came out. And like Lisa, they were quickly frustrated with the process. They eventually turned to their daughter’s school counselor, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “It wasn’t a perfect solution but at least we knew that she’d be safe,” remembers Jenny. Because of that experience, they toyed with the idea of creating a provider directory of their own. When Rachel, through a chance conversation, heard their story, she reached out to see if they were interested in building the directory. Their answer was an enthusiastic “YES!”

Originally intended to be a standalone web hub, the directory became part of the website for Prism Community Collective, a new LGBTQ+ resource center, and is one of many resources it will provide. Now called the Prism Provider Directory, it currently offers 80+ mental health care providers searchable by identity, specialty, experience, and insurance. In the coming months, more will be added, along with medical providers.

The directory went live and was rolled out widely during the events surrounding the one-year mark of the Club Q shooting. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. “There’s a sense of relief and of being seen and heard and valued,” says Dara. “Just knowing there’s a community of health care professionals who care, that can feel hopeful for the community.” 

Lisa echoes this sentiment and believes it will make a difference not only for K but for the larger LGBTQ+ community. The first time she used the directory, she began to cry. “After struggling for three years to figure this out, I instantly found six providers,” she remembers. “It’s just amazing. This work will save lives.”

*To protect the identity of the minor featured in this story, certain names and identifying information have been changed.