Amanda Ryan-Smith left a job with NCLR to oversee philanthropy at Planned Parenthood in Texas
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Amanda Ryan-Smith, an Oklahoma native, was a student at Baylor University in Waco when she first came out as a lesbian. It was not — and still isn’t — a particularly welcoming environment for LGBT people.
“I got an incredible education at Baylor, but I definitely disagree with their policies on LGBTQ issues,” Ryan-Smith said. Recalling the days after Matthew Shephard’s murder in October 1999, she said, “There was going to be a vigil for him, and I remember talking to my friends about whether or not we should go, because there was a chance we would be seen and somebody might find out” that they were lesbians.
But when she did come out, Ryan-Smith added, “I decided I would never live the pain of the closet again.”
It was also while she was in Waco that Ryan-Smith started volunteering with Planned Parenthood, an experience that helped strengthen her decision to get a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas and then go to work in the field of fundraising.
“I started in fundraising because I wanted to learn how to keep the doors open at nonprofits,” she said. “I did an internship [in development with a nonprofit] as a grad student, and I raised a ton of money. I learned then that the power is in philanthrophy.
“We make change happen. We help these organizations grow and achieve great results.”
After working in development for a variety of agencies — domestic abuse organizations, the United Way, the Austin Humane Society — Ryan-Smith decided to turn her efforts toward fundraising for the LGBTQ cause.
“My partner and I had been together for 10 years when we went to Vancouver in 2009 and were [legally] married there, before it was legal everywhere in the U.S.,” she said. “Our daughter was born in 2011, and then we moved to San Francisco and I went to work for the National Center for Lesbian
Rights, as the head of fundraising nationwide. We wanted to be part of our liberation as it was happening.”
Living in San Francisco and working for NCLR as the battle for marriage equality reached its height was “an incredible adventure,” Ryan-Smith said.
“But it wasn’t the place for us long term. We were living in a small apartment; I had to take a train to work. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. But I love a house, and a yard, and a more Texas way of life.”
So, just a little more than two years ago, the family packed up and headed for Austin, and Ryan-Smith went to work for Planned Parenthood as senior vice president of development. Although she started out in Austin, Ryan-Smith said it soon became apparent that Dallas was really the place for her and her family to be.
“All my predecessors were based out of Dallas, and most of the development staff is in Dallas. It just made more sense to live here,” she said “We moved here about a month ago, and it has been easier than I would have ever thought it could be. The people here are friendly and welcoming, and everything has just fallen into place.
“Our daughter’s school is wonderful. Working here is great. It’s been a really easy transition.”
While her job with NCLR put her at the center of the LGBTQ rights movement, Ryan-Smith said working for Planned Parenthood isn’t that far off.
“Our mission is to make sure people have access to healthcare, and donations make that possible,” she said.
Some 12 percent of the agency’s patients are men who come to Planned Parenthood for STD testing and treatments. Kelly Hart, senior director of public affairs, said the agency also offers a wide range of preventative health care services including clinical breast exams, referrals to mammograms and other. “For a lot of our patients, we are their primary care source. We are their first line of defense against other conditions,” Hart said.
Ryan-Smith stressed that “LGBT inclusivity is an integral part of the fabric of Planned Parenthood, at every level. Our purpose is to provide quality, nonjudgmental and affordable care to everyone who needs it. We don’t just welcome LGBTQ patients, we embrace them. And we have folks from the community involved at every level.”
In recent years, Planned Parenthood’s right-wing enemies, rallying behind the demand to deny federal and state funds for abortions, have managed to get right-wing politicians to cut government funding to the agency. When the cuts hit in Texas, Hart said, Planned Parenthood found ways to make up the difference.
“We’ve had state funding denied to us since 2011, and that’s been a challenge. But that’s when we looked at new ways to make health services available.
We made sure that we could see commercial insurance patients and that we had ways to cover the costs for those without insurance,” Hart said. “We did have to close a few health centers because of that. But we have re-opened some of those, and others we were already working on consolidating before the cuts. These last few years have really been a whirlwind.”
Ryan-Smith noted that she oversees fundraising for the agency across Central and North Texas, encompassing more than 20 health centers. She is also in charge of development for Austin, Waco, Fort Worth and Dallas, which means that in 2016, she oversaw some $14 million in donations, accounting for a little more than 42 percent of the agency’s revenue overall.
Hart and Ryan-Smith explained that the agency receives its primary federal funding through Title X grants, allowing six health care centers to provide free care. Those six are mostly in smaller communities with fewer healthcare options. Some Medicaid patients are also able to choose Planned
Parenthood as their primary care physician.
If the agency’s right-wing enemies get their way and Planned Parenthood loses all its government funding, Hart said, “we estimate about 17 percent of our funding could be impacted. That would add up to a little more than $6 million a year.”
It’s up to philanthropy, Ryan-Smith said, “to help fill the gaps.”
She said Planned Parenthood has gone from having 600 monthly donors a year ago to some 4,000 monthly donors now, giving an average of $13 a month.
“That’s what we really need, people standing with us by donating, by volunteering, by advocating,” Ryan-Smith said. “A lot of folks are really angry over these attacks on women’s health care. Donating to Planned Parenthood is a way to channel that anger into something positive.”
Hart added, “This [attempts to get funding cut] is a real threat. There are already tens of thousands of women going without care because Texas defunded Planned Parenthood. We’re doing everything we can, but we haven’t been able to bring care back to everyone.”
She continued, “Still, we’re going to be here no matter what. The philanthropy is awesome at helping make sure of that, but even that can’t make up for all of it. “
Ryan-Smith concluded, “Healthcare should not be a political issue. Unfortunately, this administration has chosen to make it a political issue. So we need help. You don’t have to stand at a rally to do that either; you can support candidates who support women’s health. Pay attention to elections at every level.
“Donate. Vote. Participate. We need everyone’s help.”
Planned Parenthood opens trans clinics
Planned Parenthood has recently opened two clinics in Texas specializing in treating transgender patients. One is in North Austin, and the other is in Plano.
Beth Watson, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of health services, said the clinics offer gender-affirming hormone therapy, starting with taking patients’ full medical history to make sure they qualify because some medical conditions could disqualify them from the therapies. The clinics also offering counseling, make sure patients are aware of possible side effects and what to expect during the treatments.
Planned Parenthood can prescribe hormones for patients and while some have to pick their medications up at a participating pharmacy, others are able to get their prescriptions filled right there at the clinic.
“We talk to patients about their goals,” Watson said. “Surgery isn’t the end goal for every patient. Whatever their goals, we want them to feel comfortable and to be able to get to wherever it is they want to be. And, we do give referrals for surgery, if that’s what they want.”
Watson said the clinics also offer pap tests for those patients who have a cervix, and “all the services we offer to any patient, we offer to trans patients.
Our staff all have extensive training and our clinicians have extra training on how to manage the medical portion of our services for transgender patients.”
Planned Parenthood is planning to expand its service locations for transgender patients, possibly opening a trans care center in Fort Worth in the fourth quarter of the year. “But we take the training for these centers very seriously,” Watson said. “We want to make sure the staff is ready first. But the goal is to get care to those who need it. Care, no matter what. That’s what we do.”
For information call 1-800-230-PLAN. To schedule an appointment at Planned Parenthood’s Plano transgender clinic, visit PPGreaterTexas.org and click the “make an appointment now” button.
— Tammye Nash
For information on how to donate or get involved at some level with Planned Parenthood, visit PPGreaterTexas.org