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Environmental Factor, August 2012

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NIH celebrates LGBT Pride Month

By Eddy Ball

NIH Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management Director Debra Chew

Chew delivered opening and closing remarks that emphasized OEODM’s concern with equal opportunity for members of the LGBT community. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

Lawrence Tabak

Tabak reinforced the NIH commitment to inclusion, telling the audience, “We want to ensure that every person who wants to participate in biomedical research has access to NIH resources.” (Photo courtesy of NIH)

NIH observed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month June 29 with a panel discussion in Lipsett Auditorium on its Bethesda, Md., campus. Webcast to offsite employees at NIEHS and elsewhere, and archived online, the event commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which is widely recognized as the defining event that marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. 

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The panel was made up of five leading advocates of an inclusive social, educational, and occupational environment that actively promotes acceptance of LGBT individuals as members of a diverse workforce, and recognizes their healthcare challenges. LGBT healthcare issues, the panelists explained, range far beyond HIV/AIDS to include suicide, obesity, depression, other sexually transmitted diseases, smoking, high rates of teenage homelessness, and alcohol and other drug abuse.

The discussion, sponsored by the NIH Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management (OEODM) and the LGBT group Salutaris, was introduced by OEODM Director Debra Chew and moderated by NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.

The panel included Judith Bradford, Ph.D., director of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health at The Fenway Institute;  Ida Castro, J.D., vice-president of Community Engagement and Equity at the Commonwealth Medical College; Matthew Hoffman, Ph.D., chief of the Matrix and Morphogenesis Section in the Laboratory of Cell and Developmental Biology at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; Mark Schuster, M.D., Ph.D., chief of general pediatrics and vice chair for health policy in the Department of Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital; and Scout, Ph.D., director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity at The Fenway Institute.

Accomplishments in LGBT health, education, and work

It was clear from the beginning of the event that people concerned with LGBT inclusion are proud of what they and others have achieved. Tabak pointed to the 2012 Pride Month Proclamation by President Obama; the update of the NIH harassment policy by NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., to specifically include gender identity as a protected category; and the recent establishment of an LGBT Fellows and Friends group (see text box) with the help of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) headed by Sharon Milgram, Ph.D.

Bradford and other panelists said they were encouraged by the 2011 Institute of Medicine report on LGBT health issues, as well as the experience of young people in Fenway’s Summer Institute in LGBT Population Health, a model of mentoring for LGBT students and young investigators. In her presentation, Castro reported on several programs at hospitals to specifically address LGBT concerns about discrimination over such matters as same-sex partner visitation and to improve medical training about LGBT health issues.

“Things are dramatically better for me than they were 20 years ago,” Schuster said of improvements in his workplace. Hoffman expressed his feeling of acceptance by his colleagues. “I’ve had very good experiences at NIH. … I’ve always been out [here] and happy to talk about that.”

Issues remain

However, Castro countered that she was shocked to see what LGBT individuals experience in places that aren’t as enlightened about orientation and identity as are Boston and Washington, D.C. “In the majority of this country, the reality is extremely hostile and extremely lonely,” she explained. “There are so many [LGBT] individuals that have been truly left behind.” Scout, who had been rejected by graduate programs because of gender identity, argued that scientists are still experiencing political and institutional harassment against overtly LGBT research, and facing ignorance about LGBT health issues.

NIH representatives also acknowledged how much remains to be accomplished. Tabak said, “We have a lot more to do to understand these complex issues, [and] we need more ideas to build a truly inclusive environment here at NIH.” In her closing comments, Chew returned to the themes developed in the panel discussion and questions from the audience. “Diversity is critical to scientific innovation and public health,” she concluded. “I do believe this is the civil rights issue of our generation.”

Ida Castro, J.D., Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., and Judith Bradford, Ph.D.

Schuster, center, described the empowerment of acknowledging his orientation. “There’s a sense for me of freedom,” he explained. “When I went into fellowship out of residency, I was completely out, which meant I didn’t need to hear any more gay jokes.” Shown beside him are Castro, left, and Bradford. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

Scout, Ph.D., and Matthew Hoffman, Ph.D.

Scout listened as Hoffman underscored the benefits of promoting diversity in the workplace. “I think it’s important [for us to appreciate] that each culture has something to offer,” he said. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

Resources for the LGBT community at NIH

Salutaris — As the NIH LGBT employees forum, Salutaris distributes information about happenings (Events) and its role in promoting the Salutaris mission (Equality) friends in the community (Networks) and the LGBT community in the news (News) Employees from NIH and other federal agencies meet socially twice a month in the Washington, D.C., area for the Federal GLOBE (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees) Networking Happy Hour and lunchtime Salutaris Meets and Eats.

Salutaris co-sponsors LGBT presentations and events, and helps promote NIH LGBT Pride Month celebrations through its listserv.

To join the Salutaris listserv and gain the most up-to-date news on Salutaris events, visit the Join Us website. For more information about Salutaris, visit the Contact Us website.

LGBT-Fellows and Friends — As part of its diversity resources for NIH employees, OITE created LGBT-Fellows and Friends (LGBT-FF), to increase the visibility of the invisible minority. The group exists to help its members thrive in their professional and personal lives, by addressing issues unique to the LGBT community.

The LGBT-FF group organizes, throughout the year, various seminars to educate the general public on LGBT issues and issues of interest for LGBT individuals, as well as regular social and networking events to develop professional and personal networks.

LGBT-FF also aims to provide professional and personal mentoring and career enhancement for LGBT identified individuals. LGBT-FF is open to the entire NIH community, from postdocs to staff scientists, from graduate students to postbacs, from faculty to administrative staff, and from straight to LGBT identified individuals.

For more information about LGBT-FF, contact Julien Senac or Christiane Kuschal. Join the LGBT-FF listserv to learn about up-coming LGBT-FF seminars, professional development activities, and networking opportunities

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