On June 13, a truly historic inauguration took place at the annual American Medical Association (AMA) meeting of its House of Delegates as Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld became the first openly gay president in the history of the organization.
The event took place at the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel, and had several unique flourishes. They included all of the presidents of the state medical associations filing on stage to music from the Shannon Rovers Irish pipe band as well as a three-song performance from accomplished musician Lindsey Lomis, who has known Ehrenfeld for several years.
However, the true highlight involved the ascendancy of Ehrenfeld and other speakersincluding outgoing AMA President Dr. Jack Resnick Jr. and AMA Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Sandra Adamson Fryhofernoted the importance of the inauguration taking place during Pride Month.
Ehrenfeld was sworn in by Rabbi Joel Alter (who also spoke separately). Also on hand were Ehrenfeld's husband, attorney Judd Taback, as well as their two children, Ethan and Asher.
During his speech, Ehrenfeldwho, among many other accomplishments, graduated from Haverford College, the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health; is a combat veteran; and is an Emmy-nominated photographerthanked many, including his parents (his father being a retired dentist and his mother still practicing as a psychologist); Army Commanding General Mary Krueger, whom he called "a courageous advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in the military"; and Taback and their children, among others.
Ehrenfeld's speech had him recalling a mix of situations that could be called peaks and valleys. One of the latter involved elder son Ethan, who's currently 4. When he was born 10 weeks early, he only weighed two pounds and seven ounces, and "spent 49 days in the neonatal ICU at Illinois Masonic Hospital," he added. However, "watching my son cling to life, I was struck by the painful reality that, even though I was a physician and now, a father … neither I, nor my husband, could donate bloodsimply because we are gay.
"I tell this story because I want people to understand what we mean when we talk about inequities and injustices in medicine. This is just one of many experiences my husband and I have had with health inequities, and I know that too many of my colleagues and too many of the patients we care for also suffer from discrimination and discrimination in health care on a daily basis."
Ehrenfeld then added, "It's the reason why Black women in the U.S. are at least three times as likely as white women to die during pregnancy… why Black men are 50 percent more likely to die following elective surgery" and "It's why LGBTQ teens and young adults suffer higher rates of mental health challenges, both diagnosed and, far too often, undiagnosed."
However, regarding blood donation, Ehrenfeld mentioned a triumph: "Just recently, the FDA, thanks in large part to a decade of advocacy by our AMA and others, rescinded some of these discriminatory practices, making it possible for my husband and I to give someone else's child a much-needed blood transfusion. This kind of advocacy is why I am so proud to lead our AMA at this moment."
Ehrenfeld also mentioned some of the changes that have taken place in his life(time), personally and professionally, since his first time at the AMA House of Delegates meeting in 2001. "You have to remember that in 2001, there were no federal hate crime protections for LGBTQ people," he stated. "Same-sex marriage was not legal in any state. Don't Ask Don't Tell was still the law of the landand it would remain so when I was commissioned as an officer in the Navy some years later. … Here at our AMA, there was not yet an LGBTQ Advisory Committee or Section. There were no policy discussions that focused on the health needs of my community."
He concluded his speech by talking about taking steps to eliminate discrimination and build bridges before stating that he "chooses optimism." At the end, Ehrenfeld said, "Let us move forward with confidence and purpose. Let us speak with conviction. Let us hold firm to science and the ethics of our profession. Let us serve with honor, courage and commitment. And let us always fight for a more inclusive and more equitable tomorrow."
A post-event reception took place in the hotel's ballroom.