Grant to Rainbow Health aims to serve LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth

Expanding LGBTQ+ and BIPOC care access

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Eli Wright grew up in a time when support and resources were not available to them. At the age of 15, they left home and lived on the streets due to a lack of family acceptance.

“I know the pain of being alone, being isolated, being scared, and being unsure,” they said.

Today, they serve as the adolescent mental health practice lead at Rainbow Health, a non-profit serving the LGBTQ+ community, helping LGBTQ+ youth in Minnesota feel connected to others along their journey. Rainbow Health advocates for the LGBTQ+ community, focusing on trauma-informed care and a deep understanding of how social determinants of health, like lack of housing or transportation, can impact mental health. 

In March, Rainbow Health received a three-year $2 million grant from the United Health Foundation to serve the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth of Minnesota with therapy – and much more.

“While things aren’t where we need them to be,” they said, “we are seeing positive signs. This grant is one sign of hope. I see other signs of hope from my clients every day.”

There has been a mental health crisis among young people, particularly with access to behavioral health care. This crisis can be especially pronounced with LGBTQ+ youth, who can face multiple stressors, stigma, and often difficulties from social determinants of health, such as housing and food insecurity. In fact, 4 out of 5 LGBTQ+ Minnesotans have reported moderate to severe mental distress.

In 2022, a Trevor Project survey found:

  • 45% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the past year
  • 60% of LGBTQ youth who desired mental health care in the past year were not able to receive it
  • 73% of LGBTQ youth had experienced symptoms of anxiety

Rainbow Health was created through a merger of the Minnesota AIDS Project and the Rainbow Health Initiative, with roots stretching four decades in combating HIV/AIDS and supporting the LGBTQ+ community with navigating barriers to care. Rainbow Health has a deeply centered mission to meet people where they are with compassion and empathy. The grant will expand capacity and scale for their mission, providing therapy to 250 youth, ages 14 to 25.

“Now more than ever, it is vital that our community provides affirming and accessible mental health care that is life-affirming and tells our young people that they are valued,” said Jeremy Hanson Willis, CEO of Rainbow Health.

The grant will allow the nonprofit to hire more therapists over three years, and provide more opportunities for wraparound care for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth. The geographical scope will begin in the Twin Cities, then gradually expand to encompass the entire state.

“It’s an honor to be able to break down these barriers together,” said Dr. Margaret-Mary Wilson, chief medical officer at UnitedHealth Group. “And it is my hope that the work we are launching with this project will serve as a model for similar programs across the country. Our young people deserve it.”

The goal of the grant is to advance health equity and improve health outcomes by increasing access to mental health care for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth in the Twin Cities so that they not only survive but thrive in difficult times.

“I am hopeful that in the future we can create communities where LGBTQ folks can be safe in a variety of situations while still being authentic to their identity,” Eli said.

For more information, read the press release.

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