Spotlight on History: Recognizing Health Center Leaders in LGBTQ Health Care, with Fenway Health

Fenway Community Health Center was founded by politically active local residents, students and organizers in 1971.[1] Initially a one-day-a-week drop-in basement clinic staffed by volunteer medical students, the center was dedicated to serving the diverse Fenway area community, with services organized by distinct collectives focused on women’s health, gay men, and elders.  In 1973, to meet a growing demand for services, the clinic moved to a larger location. That year, the organization incorporated as a freestanding health center and elected a volunteer governing board.

In the late 1970s, after hiring its first paid medical director, Fenway began conducting anonymous Sextually Transmitted Disease  testing in Boston’s gay bathhouses and became fully licensed by the state Department of Public Health.  In 1981, Fenway made the first diagnosis of AIDS in New England, and throughout the 1980s was a pioneer in the fight against AIDS, simultaneously offering care and treatment while advancing research.  A series of forums developed by the health center to address the medical and psychosocial implications of AIDS evolved into the independent AIDS Action Committee (AAC) of Massachusetts. The health center opened an onsite laboratory, established an AIDS hotline, began providing anonymous HIV testing, commenced a significant partnership with Harvard Medical School to culture HIV from blood and semen samples, became the first medical facility in the state to offer experimental Aerosol Pentamidine HIV treatment, and updated its mission statement to reflect its commitment the gay and lesbian community. New initiatives and programs followed, including the Substance Abuse Counseling Program, Lesbian Health Task force, Lesbian Health Line, and Violence Recovery program. Fenway also became one of the first medical facilities in the state to offer acupuncture pain management treatment for people with HIV.

In 1991, with a successful $4 million building campaign, the health center moved into a new state-of-the-art facility. In its new home, the health center launched Fenway Forums to train mental health providers on working with gay, lesbian, and HIV/AIDS positive individuals, and was selected by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as one of just eight sites – and the only community-based health center – for the nation’s first HIV vaccine trials. The Fenway Institute, a national interdisciplinary center dedicated to ensuring culturally competent health care for the LGBT community, was launched in 2001 and later collaborated with the American College of Physicians to publish The Fenway Guide to LGBT Health, the first American medical textbook focused specifically on LGBT health needs.  Fenway Institute was also the first community-based organization funded by the National Institutes of Health as a Population Research Center on LGBT Health.

The organization shortened its name to Fenway Health in 2009 and relocated to a state-of -the art 10,000 square foot home, the largest facility ever constructed by an LGBT mission-focused organization. The new building allowed Fenway to expand its medical, behavioral health and pharmacy departments, create a dedicated Women’s Health space, and add family dentistry and eye care services.

Throughout its history, Fenway has held true to its belief that health care is a right, not a privilege. Reflecting its commitment to top-quality clinical care, research, innovation and advocacy, the center annually serves more than 32,000 people, including over 5,000 transgender patients, and helps countless more in the broader LGBTQ+ community. 

[1] Fenway Health, (2024). Your Care, Your Community. Accessed March 8, 2024 at