It’s a common lesbian irritation story -“ the doctor’s appointment that ends up like a visit to a confession booth, when the GP assumes a sexual health question somehow involves a boyfriend or husband at home.
Luckily, the idea that behind every healthy woman is a healthy man is dying, and lots of non-straight women have stories of great suburban GPs who don’t think every sexual health question is penis-related.
At the Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre, women have found refuge from the mainstream medical assumptions for the past 28 years.
A problem that a lot of lesbians find is there’s the presumption of heterosexuality. As a lesbian myself, I know that it’s preferable not to have to explain my sexuality to a doctor, says Somali Ghosh, who takes care of publicity for the centre.
We’re just non-judgmental. And we have a long history of involvement in the lesbian community.
The centre holds a series of information evenings on general women’s health issues as well as some specifically for lesbians.
One of the most popular is the annual lesbian pregnancy workshop (How to Get Pregnant -“ Lesbian Style) which covers all of the tried and tested techniques as well as information about childbirth and parenting. Would-be dyke parents should mark Tuesday 10 December in their diaries to get the inside story and possibly make some very early playgroup parent buddies.
Most of the centre’s work deals with across-the-board women’s health. The staff, including a GP and women’s health nurse, only deal with women and are experienced in all areas of women-specific health issues.
The health services range from breast checks to naturopathy and the centre also offers counselling for depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug dependency, body image issues and eating disorders.
Two generations of healthy women can thank a core group of women’s rights activists, who campaigned for years to get funding for the Leichhardt centre.
When it was opened on International Women’s Day in March 1974, it was the first of its kind in Australia, and was funded by a hard-won $30,000 federal government grant.
Now it sees 7,000 women a year on a NSW Department of Health-funded budget of $500,000 per year and is one of 24 in NSW with similar philosophies and a holistic approach to women’s health.
When we’re treating a problem, we look at the whole woman. We look at the environment of the woman’s life, social issues, her background, Ghosh says.
Many of the current 7,000 clients are on low incomes, and about half come from non-English-speaking backgrounds.
All of the centre’s medical appointments are bulk-billed, and staff organise complementary therapy clinics and counselling for women most in need.
The centre also prides itself on taking time out for patients -“ first appointments generally run for at least an hour, while later visits usually last at least 30 minutes. Before hitting the streets, visitors can also relax with a cup of tea after an appointment.
Upcoming seminars include Aroma-therapy For Stress And Depression on 4 October from 7pm to 9pm, and Emotional Health And Wellbeing on 8 October from 7pm to 9pm.
The Leichhardt Community Health Centre at 55 Thornley St is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm on Mondays and Fridays and from 9:30am to 7:30pm Tuesdays and Thursdays. The centre is closed Wednesdays. For bookings and information, contact the switch on 9560 3011.