The Petaluma Health Center is launching a support group focused on the needs of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community in connection with LGBTQ week, which starts March 25.

"Some studies have shown that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to get breast cancer and uterine cancer than heterosexual women, and they are just as likely to get cervical cancer," said Vanessa Raditz, a Petaluma Health Center AmeriCorps member and educator. "Many doctors do not realize that women who sleep with women have risk of exposure to HPV, and so they do not screen as often. Lesbians are ten times less likely to get screened for cervical cancer, either because of misconceptions in medicine, or from barriers to accessing healthcare. The community at large is at a higher risk to depression. These are just some of the things that the support group we offer can help address."

Raditz said that one of the biggest health issues facing this population is the fact that people often don't disclose their sexual orientation to their healthcare providers, leaving doctors unaware of certain specific needs.

Another major barrier to getting this community proper healthcare is the fact that much of the younger LGBTQ population is uninsured.

As a federally funded facility with a mission to target the uninsured population, the Petaluma Health Center is working to address the needs of the LGBTQ of Petaluma and Sonoma County at large, and decided that adding this particular support group would benefit many people in the area.

"For young people, as well as older adults, who are just coming out for the first time, it can be really difficult to know where it's safe to do so," said Raditz. "The support group offers just such a place."

Raditz also said that LGBTQ Week has become a rallying point at the Health Center to spearhead a larger push for quality LGBTQ healthcare options. "We've had a specialist from Kaiser Permanente working with staff on how to best meet the needs of the local LGBTQ community, and working with other agencies to create a partnership to offer more options in the future," said Raditz.

The Petaluma Health Center LGBTQ Support group meets Monday evenings from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Serenity Room at the Health Center at 1179 N. McDowell Blvd. in Petaluma.

For more information call 559-7500.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at