The Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association (LGVMA) commemorated 20 years of service and advocacy during the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) annual convention at the McCormick Place West July 19-23.
The AVMA, which has its headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, is also celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
The LGVMA is, according to its website, "the professional organization that fosters acceptance, inclusivity and leadership for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, of all sexual orientations and gender identities and their allies, through community development, professional advocacy, and personal empowerment."
Founded by two San Francisco-based veterinarians, Diana Phillips and Ken Gorczyca, as the International Membership of Gay and Lesbian Animal Doctors (I'M GLAD); the organization evolved into the LGVMA at its first annual meeting during the 1993 AVMA convention in Minneapolis.
Since then, the LGVMA has grown to about 200 members mostly in the United States and Canada.
Gorczycawho also co-founded PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support), a non-profit organization in San Francisco for pet owners with HIVcurrently serves as the organization's executive secretary.
"When I was in veterinary school I felt very isolated as a gay person, so I felt that an organization to help with networking and creating a community was important. That's one of the main reasons why the LGVMA got started," said Gorczyca. "On an individual level most veterinarians are open and accepting. The profession, like society, has taken decades to be become more inclusive and accepting. In 2013, the LGVMA and AVMA are celebrating a diversity that makes the profession stronger and better prepared to serve all people, families and animals."
"I wasn't out professionally when I first started practicing in 1984 in San Francisco. When I later took a job near the Castro district, the fact that I'm gay wasn't an issue, but rather an asset to the clients that I served," said Gorczyca who is now retired from practice.
"In the early days of the LGVMA, the AIDS pandemic was still ravaging the LGBT community. So, LGBT veterinarians got involved to correct misconceptions about whether people with AIDS should keep pets or not. Many physicians mistakenly told their patients with AIDS to give up their pets, at a time that animal companionship sometimes was the only reason for some to want to continue living.
We advocated that the human-animal bond was beneficial for peoples health, especially our clients and friends who were dying of AIDS,so we made an effort to educate the profession as a whole," said Gorczyca.
LGVMA President Dr. Sandy Hazanowwho is also the liaison between the LGVMA and national groups such as the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)runs a practice with two other veterinarians called the Seven Hills Veterinarian Hospital in the Diamond Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.
Hazanow shared that the organization establishes lots of connections with veterinary colleges. They also discuss diversity and inclusiveness issues with the colleges to make them aware of issues and concerns that might crop up among LGBT veterinary students.
The LGVMA advocates on behalf of its members with the AVMA and also serves as a safe haven for members who can't come out in the communities where they work, noted Hazanow. Hazanow explained that the organization also helps members with networking, resources and events as well as supporting veterinarians who are just now coming out of the closet.
"In founding the LGVMA, Ken helped to create an environment where I'm very lucky that I don't have to be closeted," said Hazanow. 'Our mission continues to help individuals that do not have the privilege to live in inclusive environments like San Francisco."
According to Gorczyca, a study was done recently that showed seven percent of veterinary students self-identify as LGBT, whereas only three and a half percent of the general population self-identifies as LGBT. The profession has also gone from predominately male to predominately female, noted Gorczyca. This paradigm shift, along with societal changes,has helped to create a more inclusive educational and working environment within the veterinary profession.
Local LGVMA member Dr. Al Glaterwho works at McKillip Animal Hospital in the Lakeview neighborhoodhas been practicing veterinary medicine for 32 years and has been out at work since the late 1980s.
"I thought it was important to join the LGVMA so I could facilitate change through educating people that there are LGBT vets and they are just people. In urban environments things are better but that isn't the case everywhere," said Glater. "During the March on Washington in 1993, I saw a flier inviting LGBT vets to a meet-up so I went to that gathering and decided to join right away."
Another local LGVMA member Dr. Diane Dodinwho is in the process of buying an existing practice called Prospect Animal Hospital in Arlington Heightshas been practicing veterinary medicine for 10 years and has always been out at all of her jobs.
"I saw posters about the LGVMA while I was going to school at Ross University Veterinary School on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean. I decided to check it out and found a great group of people that I had something in common with,which was great for me because St. Kitts isn't very LGBT friendly," said Dodin.
Hazanow shared that veterinary medicinewhich encompasses many disciplines including agriculture, industry, research, government and companion animal careis a very conservative profession overall, due in part because of its agricultural roots. In some areas it is still difficult for many members of the profession to embrace LGBT diversity, said Hazanow.
"Over the past 20 years we've been in an uphill battle and right now we are reaching the crest of a wave where there are windows of opportunity for us as an organization because of the general climate in the country around LGBT issues. I think that it's a really great place to be with a lot of opportunities that we can take advantage of to see if we can push that window open so that everyone else can follow," said Hazanow.
See www.lgvma.org for more information.