transgender women being served by healthcare professional

Grantee Spotlight: Welcome Project PA Filming Documentary to Improve Healthcare Outcomes for LGBTQIA+ Individuals

Through the power of visual storytelling, we hope to invoke emotion and to create an awareness.

Throughout our conversations with safety net partners over the last two years, HealthSpark has heard time and again the need to improve our sector’s capacity for advocacy and policy change. Safety net partners in fields from mental health to food security to senior services have noted the devastating impact of discriminatory policy and chronic underfunding on their ability to serve residents during the pandemic, weather-related crises, and even in “normal” pre-pandemic times- but collectively have also noted the disconnect between direct service work and stronger advocacy by nonprofits to address these deeply rooted issues. Our most heard question over the last year has been: how do we change the hearts, minds, and practices of our broader community to push for more equitable policies and well-resourced safety net programs?

The Welcome Project PA is one example of a local nonprofit that is increasing their advocacy and policy change efforts in direct relation to the policy and practice-related challenges their clients experience. Through their documentary project Best Medical Practices for Transgender, Non-Binary, and Intersex Patients, “LGBTQIA+ people, medical professionals, & medical students seek to improve access to healthcare for LGBTQIA+ people by ensuring that medical professionals gain the necessary information, training, and tools to adequately deliver proper care to LGBTQIA+ patients,” shared Josh Blakesley, Cofounder/ Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA.

The documentary project is part of The Welcome Project PA's broader work to better connect LGBTQIA+ individuals with safe, trained medical professionals. “The program will also improve access to competent medical care by linking individuals to trained providers through an online, searchable database. Our program will increase the health & well-being of LGBTQIA+ communities by removing gaps in medical care & reducing the fear that patients often feel when seeking care,” Mr. Blakesley adds. The Welcome Project PA provides training, hosts events, and supports a community space in Horsham, called the SAGA Community Center. The Best Medical Practices project is being carried out by the SAGA Community Center Director Niki Kulp, Assistant Director of Development Aimee S. Goldsmith, and Program Manager Dominique Richardson, as well as The Welcome Project PA Board Member Kai Howard.

Media Is A Critical Tool for Policy Change

The Welcome Project PA documentary is one of three Montgomery County-based projects recently funded through the Community Voices Fund, a pooled regional funding program which seeks to elevate community voices and community solutions to systemic inequities and systems that need to change. HealthSpark Foundation contributed funds to the summer 2021 round as part of our efforts to more deeply support arts, storytelling, and journalism by and for underrepresented and unheard voices. As our community partners have shared throughout our hosted conversations in 2020 and 2021, our work to support a stronger safety net must be intentionally inclusive of stories by and for vulnerable populations, and our sector needs to build capacity for more effective messaging on the needs of these populations so that real policy changes can take root.

As Mr. Blakesley notes, media is a powerful tool for advocacy and policy change. “A documentary is the right approach to share the experiences of Trans, Non-Binary, and Intersex people because we feel that through this method we have the best chance of reaching a wider network,” he shares. “Through the power of visual storytelling, we hope to invoke emotion and to create an awareness.” The group has already started filming and pulling together short media clips to support their project, such as the video short from the First Annual Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival hosted in July 2021.

The Welcome Project PA intends to share the documentary widely with elected officials and healthcare professionals across the state, as well as submit to local and national film festivals and streaming services for broader viewing. This approach has much broader reach than traditional human services communications methods, such as newsletters or annual reports that tend to reach a more limited audience of current supporters.

Centering Lived Experience of LGBTQIA+ Residents

The documentary is both led by and featuring residents whose experiences in medical settings have shaped The Welcome Project PA’s recommendations. “We will be featuring trans, non-binary, and intersex patients and their stories as related to their experiences in health care settings. We will also feature interviews with doctors and med students to spotlight their needs to be able to properly care for LGBTQIA+ patients,” Mr. Blakesley explains. The documentary is complimentary to ongoing trainings that The Welcome Project PA provides, which feature panels of LGBTQIA+ individuals speaking to their experiences in medical settings.

This investment in increasing accessibility to safe, responsive healthcare for LGBTQIA+ individuals builds on prior projects funded by HealthSpark Foundation, notably the Your Way Home LGBTQ Community Engagement Project Report conducted in 2019. In this study, a coalition of health and human services partners, led by Your Way Home, hired LGBTQIA+ residents to interview their peers regarding their challenges in accessing health and human services or in receiving equal, informed treatment at human services provider agencies. The report includes a number of recommendations regarding improving human services for LGBTQIA+ residents applicable to any public service organization seeking to create a more inclusive, safe space.

Increasing resident engagement in safety net projects is a key goal identified through partners of the Safety Net Resiliency Initiative, and through storytelling like this documentary, their voices and experiences are directly shaping how their narratives are told.

Measuring Success

The group hopes the documentary will spur an increase in positive health outcomes among LGBTQIA+ people, specifically within healthcare settings. Long-term, “we hope to widen the community awareness around disparities and in turn, create more accessibility to proper medical care among LGBTQIA+ populations that typically struggle to find care,” Mr. Blakesley notes. This will be evidenced by tracking the number of medical practitioners being added to the “safe list" of doctors for LGBTQIA+ patients, as well as more clinics, hospitals, and other medical settings that prominently advertise as trans-friendly.

About The Welcome Project PA

The Welcome Project PA strives to be a diverse, safe place for marginalized and vulnerable populations and seeks to bring about positive social change to improve the quality of life for these individuals and families in Greater Philadelphia. The Welcome Project PA provides educational resources, support groups, social activities and events, legal services, advocacy, food and nutrition services, interfaith learning and cooperation, and LGBT+ friendly, trauma-informed therapy, healing, and counseling. They serve newcomers to the US, Spanish-speaking communities, refugees, vulnerable faith communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and people living in poverty who lack the basic necessities.

For more information on their programs and trainings, please visit


Our header image is courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collectivea stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models that go beyond the clichés. This collection aims to help media better represent members of these communities as people not necessarily defined by their gender identities—people with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and home lives.