June 01, 2018

 

 Campaign pushes for profession to recognize third gender option

Posted May 9, 2018

Pride VMC logo

The student and professional veterinary organizations representing the LGBTQ community have endorsed a letter-writing campaign asking the veterinary profession to include a third gender option on client intake forms, application forms, and surveys.

Morgan Miller, a second-year veterinary student at Colorado State University, came up with the idea to start a letter-writing campaign early this year. Miller shared the letter she composed with the boards of the Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association and Pride Veterinary Medical Community (formerly the Lesbian and Gay VMA; see sidebar). Both signed onto the campaign, and are encouraging their members to contact veterinary college deans and leaders of other associations to spread the word. They hope to increase acceptance of the concept that gender refers to a person's personal identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics.

Historically, only cisgender identities have been recognized. Cisgender refers to a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. Yet, leading medical organizations and other advocates say that individuals' gender and sexual identities do not always fit neatly into binary paradigms. For example, when a male is born, gender binarism assumes the male will be masculine in appearance, character traits, and behavior, including having a heterosexual attraction to females.

Now, although this is not universally accepted, there is greater recognition among segments of society that individuals may identify as transgender (meaning their gender identity is the opposite of their sex at birth), intersex, nonbinary, gender-fluid, or otherwise. Broad Spectrum VSA has put together a presentation on the topic of gender and sexual identities, available at https://jav.ma/IdentitySpectrum.

Nonbinary gender identity is currently not recognized by most states, but some changes have occurred to add more-inclusive options. Last June, Oregon became the first to recognize a nonbinary gender option on driver's licenses. Since the bill passed, Washington, D.C., and more states have followed suit: Washington, New York, and California, which became the first state to allow nonbinary residents to change their gender on all relevant legal documents, including birth certificates, to a gender-neutral option.

"We are moving towards a generation where there is an increasing number, and awareness of trans and nonbinary individuals. As a profession we need to recognize the growing need and create an application process that acknowledges these individuals: our colleagues, classmates and clients," the letter states, in part.

It goes on to suggest that universities, associations, and practices adopt one of the following options:

  • Include a blank space where individuals can fill in their gender identity.
  • Offer three gender options: male, female, and "gender not listed."

"For prospective students/clients/employees that fall outside the male/female binary, it can be alienating to routinely not see themselves identified. If more than the binary is reported and they saw their gender identity validated, they would feel a lot more safe and encouraged to apply for that prospective university/clinic," the letter states. "The recognition of other genders signals to applicants and clients an awareness of their identity and that the veterinary profession is a supportive environment."

Miller also introduced the letter to the Student AVMA executive board during the SAVMA Symposium in March. The board voted to back the effort, as did the board for Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity.

Subsequently, the AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and North American Veterinary Community indicated their support for including a third gender option on forms and surveys.

The AVMA implemented the change in its annual Senior Survey sent out this spring. Jen Brandt, PhD, director of member well-being and diversity initiatives, said staff members had already planned on updating the 2018 survey form to ensure consistency with evolving best practices in inclusivity.

Earlier, Dr. Brandt and Lisa Greenhill, EdD, AAVMC senior director for institutional research and diversity, had discussed how the AAVMC has implemented the nonbinary gender question, and its future plans.

The AAVMC has had nonbinary gender–related questions on its independent research projects since 2011, and last year it added a nonbinary gender option to its annual data collection from the veterinary colleges, Dr. Greenhill said. Further, the AAVMC's Veterinary Medical College Application Service has gone through several versions of its gender-related questions in the past decade. The VMCAS 2019 application cycle questions about gender will move closer to what the AAVMC asks on its other data collection efforts.

Following their discussion and AVMA staff leadership discussions on the topic in March and April, the Association adjusted the survey just before it was launched.

Dr. Brandt said she fully supports the AVMA taking this step. In a message to organizers, she wrote: "It was important to us that we identify a tenable solution to accommodate researchers who depend on government data on biological sex, as well as provide a culturally competent approach to asking about gender identity."

One question on the senior survey now asks, "What is your sex?" and a second question asks, "What is your gender identity?" with male, female, and "gender X" as options.

"Our first priority, because of the time-sensitive nature of it, was updating the (senior) survey. We will have broader discussions on how we implement this Associationwide," Dr. Brandt said, such as in other surveys and the AVMA Membership Database. She said the next step is to work with the AAVMC to develop a joint statement in support of this approach.

Last year, Broad Spectrum and the LGVMA successfully petitioned the AVMA Board of Directors to update the "AVMA Policy on Diversity and Inclusion" to add "nondiscrimination language" that now includes both gender identity and expression.

Dr. Brandt said, "Eventually we would like to see major corporations and private practices have this on the application process and client intake forms so we can start making change at the national level for veterinarians and clients. It will be a progressive change, step by step, but it's taken off quicker than anyone expected."

LGBTQ veterinary group renames itself

The Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association has rebranded itself as the Pride Veterinary Medical Community.

The group's origins date to the late 1970s when it started as the Association of Gay Veterinarians. That name was replaced in 1991 by the International Membership of Gay and Lesbian Animal Doctors, founded by Drs. Ken Gorczyca and Diana Phillips. I'M GLAD then changed in 1993 to the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association.

The latest iteration of the organization came from discussions during a strategic planning session held at AVMA Convention 2017 in Indianapolis, in addition to feedback from an LGVMA survey of its membership this past year. In March, the LGVMA board voted to modernize and choose a more inclusive name, as suggested by student members and other young members, according to an April 20 press release. A formal rollout is planned for June, which is LGBT Pride Month.

Pride VMC endeavors to represent the entire spectrum of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning and/or queer people, along with allies who are veterinarians, veterinary students, veterinary technicians and technology students, and veterinary staff and faculty.

"As our world and our profession changes, we feel that the time has come to update our name once again," Dr. Melinda Merck, president of Pride VMC, said in the release. "The veterinary profession has become more aware of and concerned with diversity and wellness in our communities. We feel that the name of our organization should be one that represents all of us and seeks to be as inclusive as possible. Many LGBTQ+ organizations across the country and the world have begun to move away from the 'alphabet soup' acronyms and are choosing names that include members and allies under one umbrella. This is our goal, to choose a name that is inclusive, fun, and truly represents who we are and what we stand for."

Pride VMC is also becoming a 501(c)3 organization. Its new strategic focus is as follows:

  • Fight discrimination against LGBTQ people in the veterinary medical profession.
  • Build collaborative networks for the LGBTQ veterinary medical community.
  • Support LGBTQ students in veterinary medicine through mentorship, program development, and scholarships.

Pride VMC is planning to build a new website (www.pridevmc.org) that will include several new features, such as a jobs page.

For more information, contact info@pridevmc.org.

The Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association plans to keep its name, as it represents all students at North American veterinary colleges, wherever they fall on the spectrum of sexuality or gender.

Related JAVMA Content

Nondiscrimination language added to diversity policy (June 1, 2017)

Silent minority finds its voice (Feb. 15, 2010)