Driving Healthcare Equity

First African American to chair Planned Parenthood chapter

Danny Peterson | 12/12/2017, 1:53 p.m.
Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette has a new chair, small business owner and health care practitioner Sita Symonette, the first African ...
Sita Symonette has helped make waves in equity and inclusion during her five year tenor on the board of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette. Now she’s the first African American woman to chair the board in its 54 year history. Photo by Danny Peterson

As a health care practitioner herself, through her acupuncture business, Symonette said she saw a need for people of color to receive culturally competent care.

"I'm a black, queer woman, so I have a personal investment in making sure that we're an equitable and inclusive organization,” Symonette said.

Symonette has overseen an expansion of services during the time she has served on the board. She supported and advocated for Planned Parenthood to start providing transgender hormone replacement therapy for people 18 or older, for instance, which just began within the last couple of years. That therapy started at the clinic-level, Symonette said, and then-CEO Stacy Cross also advocated for it. It was later voted in by the board as an official service offering. And thanks to the Reproductive Health Equity Act’s anti-discrimination component, more access to health services like this, as well as cancer screening, will be made available to trans people.

“We provide confidential care and non-judgmental care. And I think a lot of people come to us for that. You know, you might not feel comfortable going to your primary care doctor to get, um, trans-hormonal care, but maybe you're more inclined for Planned Parenthood because you know that we're so supportive of our communities that we serve,” Symonette said.

Other services added in the last five years include prenatal care and telemedic services, which is when patients can video conference a doctor or nurse practitioner, for things like prescription refills, remotely.

Symonette has personally advocated for diversity within the organization, promoting African Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians as board members and creating two equity and inclusion positions, both of which were met with support from her fellow board members.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in biological psychology from Western Washington University and participated in federally funded neuroscience research while there. She also has a master’s degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine and her practice specializes in women’s healthcare; fertility, anything related to menstrual cycles, and menopause. She has a 7 month old child with her wife, Lai-Lani.

“I'm the first woman of color to chair this board. It's important for us to see ourselves in places of leadership. I think that that is part of health equity,” Symonette said.