Rooted in LGBTQ+ liberation, Howard Brown Health provides affirming healthcare and mobilizes for social justice. We are agents of change for individual wellbeing and community empowerment.
Howard Brown Health envisions a future where healthcare and transformative social policies actualize human rights and equity for all.
About Howard Brown Health
Howard Brown Health was founded in 1974 and is now one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) organizations. With an annual budget of over $145 million, the agency serves more than 40,000 adults and youth in its diverse health and social service delivery system focused around seven major programmatic divisions: primary medical care, behavioral health, research, HIV/STI prevention, youth services, elder services, and community initiatives. Howard Brown serves men, women, trans and gender non-conforming folks, infants, youth, and children through a multi-site operation based in Chicago that includes a main health and research center in the Uptown neighborhood, Howard Brown Health Sheridan, and our other clinics Howard Brown Health Halsted in Lakeview, Howard Brown Health Clark in Rogers Park, Howard Brown Health 63rd Street in Englewood, Howard Brown Health 55th Street in Hyde Park, Howard Brown Health at Thresholds South in Back of the Yards, Howard Brown Health at La Casa Norte in Humboldt Park, 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 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 infections (STI) 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 nights 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 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, which enabled the organization to hire its first paid staff. This work resulted in a major scientific breakthrough: the development of the hepatitis B vaccine. The development catapulted Howard Brown 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 was quick to react. Keeping informed from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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, Howard Brown 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.
By 1987, AIDS had taken hold of the gay community’s emotional and intellectual collective thinking. Howard Brown Health 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, Howard Brown opened its first Brown Elephant Resale Shop, with proceeds going directly to help provide care for uninsured and underinsured patients and clients. Now with three stores (Lakeview, Andersonville, and Oak Park), the Brown Elephant has been named Best Resale Shop in the Chicago Reader’s Best of Chicago every year since 2010. The Brown Elephant Resale Shops continue to help fund services for more than 50% of Howard Brown’s under- and uninsured patients.
In 1991, Howard Brown Health was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and 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 and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center announced an affiliation to help the agency expand primary care services to more clients who were 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 offered the first same-sex parenting clinics in the Midwest.
Ever increasing need for services and programs prompted the board to vote unanimously in 1995 to pursue new building options, and a year-long capital campaign was launched to erect what is now Howard Brown’s Sheridan Road location. Howard Brown Health 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 with the first in-clinic, full-service Walgreens with pharmacists specializing in HIV/AIDS.
Mayor Richard M. Daley attended the groundbreaking ceremony in 1996 and October 4, 1997 was the opening day at Howard Brown Health’s new facility at 4025 N. Sheridan Road.
Recognizing the need for services to at-risk, homeless, and LGBTQ+ youth, Howard Brown Health opened the Broadway Youth Center in 2004, collaborating with community partners Children’s Memorial Hospital, Teen Living Program, and the Night Ministry.
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 community.
In 2006, Howard Brown Health was selected by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to lead a collaborative effort in developing a new initiative for LGBTQ+ and vulnerable older adults. Working with community partners Rush University Medical Center, Heartland Alliance, Council for Jewish Elderly, and Midwest Hospice and Palliative Care, Howard Brown created a first-of-its-kind comprehensive senior program for isolated, vulnerable, and disadvantaged seniors.
In 2007, the Latino Health Services Program was initiated in response to an increasing need to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to Latino men-who-have-sex-with-men.
Howard Brown’s Nurses Health Education About LGBT Elders (HEALE) program made a huge splash in 2013 with its Cultural Competency Curriculum, reaching more than 4,600 nurses and healthcare professionals. The program’s research was published in the Journal of Nursing Management, shedding light on the discrimination LGBTQ+ seniors face in healthcare settings.
In August 2015, Howard Brown Health was named a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) – the only FQHC in Illinois focused on the health needs of the LGBTQ+ population. This designation, awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, allowed the organization to pursue new funding streams to improve the health of the LGBTQ+ community and to serve more people.
The FQHC award also made possible the opening, in December 2015, of Howard Brown Health Clark in Rogers Park. In May 2016, Howard Brown took over the operations of a clinic formerly operated by the Chicago Department of Public Health in the Englewood neighborhood, Howard Brown Health 63rd Street. With these two clinics, Howard Brown’s reach in Chicago spans over 20 miles from north to south.
Howard Brown and University of Chicago have been working for a number of years on projects and program. In 2015, this partnership became more official with funding from the CDC on a testing initiative project. Dr. John Schneider, a renowned researcher and physician at the University of Chicago was seeking an organization to house his community practice – Howard Brown Health 55th street began seeing patients in May of 2016.