Linda Estabrook who has led the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective (HGLHC) as executive director for 34 years has announced her retirement. Joining the organization in 1983, six years after its founding, Estabrook led the organization through some of the darkest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, up through the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to deal with health challenges facing the collective’s patients.
Under her guidance, the HGLHC has become a leading health organization in the state, serving people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, always emphasizing, health, wellness, care, and community.
Over nearly three-and-a-half decades, Estabrook says she watched the evolution of HIV/AIDS from a widely misunderstood death sentence to a manageable chronic disease. In a conversation with Connecticut Voice, she spoke feelingly of the early days when testing could take weeks and was a potentially traumatic experience—whether the results were positive or negative. She recalls asking patients if they wanted to be tested, if they wanted the results of the tests, and what they would do when the found out.
She added that while today there are an assortment of treatments, and much more is known about HIV/AIDS, the caregivers are still asking the same questions. Care for the patients and their well-being continues to be the primary concern.
Looking back at the changes she’s seen over the years, Estabrook also said that she has seen people coming out at younger and younger ages. She says, ‘it’s pretty amazing to witness the positive changes that are impacting youth.” At the same time, she says, “sometimes it feels like the more progress that’s been made, the more dangerous the world can become.” As a result, Linda and her team have constantly looked at how best to support their clients in a dynamic world.
Speaking of a changing world, the organization was challenged with COVID-19, and Linda once again led the organization through a crisis. She notes that for many of the gay men HGLHC serves, there was certainly generational trauma as COVID spread, so much was familiar to the early days of HIV/AIDS as unknowns and fear gripped the country. Even as recently as last year, the emergence of Mpox created another challenge for the collective.
Estabrook is rightfully proud of how HGLHC responded. “We had to develop programs and services on the fly,” she says. “We were working with various partners, and we needed to flip the switch and make that happen.” She and her team were successful, which resulted in a huge bump in clients. In July of 2022, they served 26-to-28 clients, and by August that had grown to 178. Along with that, there are all the staffing, funding, and advocacy issues that go along with that expansion and being able to serve those who need them.
The work never stops, and asked if she’s going to take some time off when she steps down on June 30, Estabrook laughs. “Certainly, that has crossed my mind,” she says. However, she wants to ensure that the work of the collective continues. “After 34 years, there are all kinds of documentation, institutional experience, and memory.” Making sure those are preserved are the tasks of her last few months in the job…as well as overseeing ongoing care.
Over the years, Linda has received many awards and accolades, including the Susan S. Addis Award in Public Health Practice and the Dorothy Award of Leadership in Health for the LGBTQ+ community, and the Spirit of Community Award Lifetime of Service, promoting health, wellbeing, and justice.
As she moves on—and hopefully ultimately gets a little downtime—Linda’s legacy of caring advocacy and providing compassion and consideration for the diverse communities HGLHC serves, will endure for many years to come.