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Recognizing the LGBTQ+ community at Stanford: “We should be a beacon”

At Stanford Medicine's second annual LGBTQ+ forum, participants shared how education, research and care could be more inclusive of sex & gender minorities.

Carolyn Dundes came to Stanford Medicine to learn about brain development and stem cell biology, not to be a spokesperson for gender minorities. But, as an out and proud transgender scientist, Dundes will continue to do so until it's no longer necessary.

Some days, Dundes, a third-year PhD student, doesn't have the energy to teach people that "transgender" means the gender you were assigned at birth doesn't match the one you identify with. Nor does Dundes always feel comfortable correcting people who use the wrong gender pronouns. Dundes is gender nonbinary, which is to say not male or female, and uses the gender neutral they/them pronouns instead of "she" or "he."

In those moments, Dundes is grateful to be at a place like Stanford, where there's a growing sense of community that they've come to rely on for support.

Monday, at Stanford Medicine's second annual LGBTQ+ Forum, Dundes embraced the opportunity to share how the Stanford Medicine community could step up as allies of gender-nonconforming peers and colleagues. Providing all-gender restrooms and sharing your personal pronouns are two steps everyone can take to support sex and gender minorities, they pointed out.

The forum provided a platform to discuss how medical education, research and care at Stanford could be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning individuals.

"These are challenging times in our country and they are particularly challenging for our LGBTQ+ community," said Dean Lloyd Minor, MD. "We should be a beacon. We should be a model in demonstrating our commitment in achieving a more diverse and inclusive society. It has to begin right here at home."

Balloons and rainbow colors decorated the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.

Mitchell Lunn, MD, and Juno Obedin-Maliver, MD, co-directors of the PRIDE Study, the first national long-term health of LGBTQ+ health, delivered the keynote address.

Obedin-Maliver, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and Lunn, a nephrologist, met as medical students at Stanford in 2005 and joined the faculty earlier this year.

They've been thinking about LGBTQ+ health care needs since they began medical school. As lesbian and gay students, they were interested in learning more about how to take care of themselves and their community, and found little in the curriculum, Obedin-Maliver said.

"Our own communities were really invisible in our medical training," she said.

After surveying other medical schools and determining how little was being taught nationwide, Obedin-Maliver and Lunn determined there was a need for more data around how being a sex and/or gender minority influences a person's physical, mental and social health. That led to the launch of the PRIDE Study. Currently 16,000 people have enrolled in the landmark study, which conducts annual wide-ranging health questionnaires.

Lunn encouraged researchers in the audience to consider including more LGBTQ+ people in studies, give participants a way to report their gender or sexuality when they join a study and think about how they can involve the people they're trying to help in the research process.

The forum included several panel discussions on LGBTQ+ issues.

Following panels discussing LGBTQ+ issues in clinical and research environments, the event concluded with closing remarks by Minor; David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care; and Paul King, president and CEO of Stanford Children's Health.

Minor said he would continue to support events that foster LGBTQ+ inclusion and invited the audience to share feedback for the leadership.

Obedin-Maliver said it meant a lot to have Minor, King and Entwistle in the room. She asked that they allow staff to include gender pronouns on their clinical badges and require all staff and faculty members be trained on unique health needs in the LGBTQ+ population.

King, CEO of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, gave his word that initiatives like Monday's forum would continue until they were no longer necessary. 

"You shouldn't have to train everyone in terms of the issues that you face," King said. "When we come into a community, we want to see ourselves -- we want to be welcomed."

Photos by Luke Girard / Thru Luke's Lens; Mitchell Lunn shown at top

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