Not over the rainbow yet

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The first session during the 2011 Iverson Bell Symposium March 10-11 in Alexandria, Va., was devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

The presentation, "LGBT Concerns in Veterinary Education and Practice: A Perspective from Medical Education," was given by Shane Snowdon, founding director of the University of California-San Francisco Center for LGBT Health & Equity. It is the only LGBT office in a health care setting in the country, she said.

"LGBT people and issues are much more visible in health and education and practice because we've become much more visible in society, especially in the past four years," Snowdon said.

The American Medical Association has recently created an LGBT advisory committee. The Institute of Medicine this past year formed the Committee on LGBT Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities. And the Association of American Medical Colleges' Group on Student Affairs and Organization of Student Representatives developed recommendations regarding how medical schools should handle LGBT students.

Even so, students still face hurdles.

Snowdon mentioned the "outness dilemma." If an LGBT student comes out, he or she risks disapproval from classmates and faculty and pressure to be "the spokesperson" and develop resources, she said. But if LGBT students don't come out, they risk secrecy, stress, and shame as well as estrangement from out students.

Snowdon encouraged deans and associate deans to implement best practices at their schools. This could be something as simple as having a nondiscrimination statement that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Or, something more could be done, such as having transgender policies, procedures, and accommodations in place. The Human Rights Campaign offers many resources in these areas. Snowdon also recommended that images of LGBT people be included in outreach and admissions materials and that interviewers be trained.

Some veterinary schools and colleges have already taken the initiative in reaching out to the LGBT community. Tuskegee University, the University of California-Davis, Cornell University, Tufts University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Guelph, and Ross University all have past or current student Lesbian and Gay VMA chapters. Nineteen of the veterinary schools and colleges have an affiliated LGBT center at their university.