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Winter Queerstice: Pensacola's All-Inclusive Holiday Celebration

By Dakota Parks for Downtown Crowd

When people think of the holidays, they often picture food, family and friends. For the LGBT+ community, however, holidays can be alienating. Especially for those with strained or intolerant family relations. One local clinic, Pensacola Osteopaths is hoping to change that by creating a holiday party that everyone is welcome at. Winter Queerstice is a holiday party and a public fundraiser to raise funds for the clinic’s LGBT+ and gender-affirming health care costs.


When Dr. Alexys Hillman, an Army veteran, opened Pensacola Osteopaths in May 2018, the focus was on a clinic that provided holistic healthcare, including manipulation services. Osteopathy is a branch of medical practice that emphasizes treatment methods through the manipulation and massage of the bones, joints, and muscles. As Dr. Hillman describes it, osteopathic doctors try to focus on natural remedies and assessing the entire body and mind before prescribing medications.


However, Dr. Hillman quickly realized there was a serious need in the community for more than just osteopathic manipulation. At her clinic, they now offer a discounted disability program, primary care for uninsured and low-income patients, rapid HIV testing, free birth control consultations and reduced medication, at-cost Pap smears, and sliding-scale appointments for transition management for transgender and non-binary patients.


When Ariel Bailey left the U.S. Navy and transitioned from male to female two years ago, she struggled to find adequate health care providers in the Pensacola region. When she lost insurance and could no longer afford her medical provider, she reached out to Dr. Hillman. Together, they have created the only informed-consent clinic in the entire region for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Now, Bailey serves as the program manager for their gender-affirming health care program.


The traditional way of handling HRT at medical practices is to require transgender patients to obtain a letter of recommendation from a therapist. This requirement can often take months of therapy sessions and prohibit low-income patients from acquiring medication. Bailey is not only the program manager at Pensacola Osteopaths, but she was also the first transgender patient of the program.


“I swear, every day I’m still meeting a new transgender person that thinks they’re the only one. Being a face of an organization allows me to educate people and promote visibility,” said Bailey. “We aren’t just giving out hormones like candy—people actually think that we just give hormones to everyone that walks through the door. We still do lab tests and assess overall health including mental health. We just promote this level of believability—if a patient comes in seeking treatment, we believe them. There is no need for gatekeeping in the medical community. And that’s an amazing thing, as a patient, just to be believed.”


The clinic itself is a warm, inclusive environment. From the literature on the coffee tables promoting LGBT+ comics, feminist magazines, and even educational children’s books to a year-round clothing transfer for both homeless and transgender patients to exchange clothing at, the office is rich in diversity. It even features a tiny food pantry. This advocation for patients is at the heart of the Winter Queerstice event. Dr. Hillman’s team at Pensacola Osteopaths believes that medical providers owe their patients a “degree of wellness” and advocation behind and in front of doors. Other HRT providers in town, for example, do not promote hormones for transgender patients on their websites or office literature.


“If you’re going to treat them, don’t treat them like they’re a secret—these are people too. Transgender patients should feel just as welcome to walk into a clinic and get their medication as any other patients in there. I don’t know how anyone can get good health care when they’re not allowed to talk about what they’re getting or what their doctor is doing for them,” said Dr. Hillman.


The event is not just about community building, education, and visibility while raising medical funds— it’s also about people.


“I’m really looking forward to having people mingling and laughing. It’s such a weird thing, but the thing I’m looking forward to the most is just the laughter and the joy. Being able to bring people together that don’t have to worry about being clocked or deadnamed that typically goes around the holiday season. The whole event concept started from a conversation with one of my patients about LGBT people that don’t want to go home for the holidays,” explained Dr. Hillman.


*Clocking is a term used to describe when transgender people have been recognized as transgender, or outed as such, rather than the gender they are presenting. Deadnaming is another phrase used to describe when family and friends continue to call transgender people by their pre-transition names, or dead names, rather than their newly adopted and accepted names.


The holidays can be a hard time for both of these issues. Winter Queerstice is providing a safe space, free of that struggle, donned with festive decorations, photo stations, refreshments, raffles, and live entertainment.


Winter Queerstice will be held on Dec 18, from 6 p.m. 10 p.m. at the Pensacola Opera, located at 75 S. Tarragona Street in Pensacola. Tickets for the fundraiser are $40 in advance or $50 at the door. Pensacola Osteopaths is located off University Parkway and is open Monday through Friday, by appointment. They can be contacted at (850) 368-7528.

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