LGBT veterinarians’ visibility rising

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The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community has a place in veterinary medicine and should continue to work to be a more visible part of it.

That was the message delivered during the keynote lecture “LGVMA and AVMA—Partnering for the Future,” given by Roosevelt University President Charles Middleton, PhD, during the Lesbian and Gay VMA 20th anniversary reception July 21 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. The AVMA and Zoetis were sponsors.

Charles Middleton
Roosevelt University President Charles Middleton, PhD, addresses attendees of the Lesbian and Gay VMA 20th anniversary reception July 21. He was one of the first openly gay presidents of a higher education institution. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Dr. Middleton’s stance is that “you already live a stressful life within your profession, it’s hardly right for you to have to deal with being closeted as an add-on to that.”

His own career began in 1969 not long after the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in New York City that gave birth to the LGBT movement.

The suggestion of coming out chilled him, as he had a family to support and didn’t want to jeopardize that. He never considered the loss of personal integrity he was perpetrating by doing that.

Dr. Middleton added, “Nothing is wrong with me or you. I had to learn that, first personally and then professionally.”

He encountered many obstacles and setbacks along the way as well as victories as he transformed himself from a closeted man to one who is outspoken about his sexuality.

He saw numerous friends die, at one point attending a funeral a month in the ‘80s because of the devastation AIDS had on the LGBT community. He also saw his rights taken away when voters in Colorado, where he lived, approved a state constitutional amendment in 1993 that excluded gays and lesbians from antidiscrimination laws and policies.

“I grew up in the South, and never until that moment had I understood viscerally the blind hatred against people merely based on who they are, and it woke me up,” Dr. Middleton said. “Being ‘out’ at work was not something someone did, but it was deceitful to yourself and others. I started to follow the pattern where, if you need to know, I’d tell you.”

With every job he’s had since—each with increasing authority—he has been out of the closet.

Coming out is a never-ending process, he said, and doing so not only helps effect change but also helps change people in the workplace.

He’s also helped many LGBT individuals in various professions pursue their career goals.

“I say the best thing to be is to be very good at what you do, and to be reliable, and to live up to your promise. People will respect you for your professionalism. And they will cherish—in time—your different perspective and how you view things,” Dr. Middleton said. “Be the best veterinarian you can be. If you’re that, doors open and you have opportunities.”

Dr. Middleton finished his talk by commending the LGVMA for the work it’s done so far.

“That you’ve been here 20 years, that’s very progressive. That was forward-thinking, though, I’m sure it was scary as hell (at first),” he said.

LGVMA President Sandra Hazanow of San Francisco echoed Dr. Middleton’s sentiments when she told JAVMA News that her organization’s presence was important, as it puts the profession in better alignment with society.

She added, “We’re veterinarians first. We just want to be ourselves in the profession and contribute a lot. ... Especially in small animal medicine, being able to allow owners and veterinarians to be who they are enhances the experience.”

Dr. Hazanow also said the LGVMA felt honored to collaborate with the AVMA for the event. In attendance were a number of AVMA leaders, including Drs. Douglas G. Aspros, 2012-2013 president; Ted Cohn, 2013-2014 president-elect; Joseph H. Kinnarney, presidential candidate and outgoing Executive Board member; and Larry M. Kornegay, former AVMA president; along with Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges immediate past president, Dr. Deborah Kochevar and other AAVMC representatives.

Visit for more information about the association’s 20th anniversary.