AVMA stands for “respect and dignity” of all members

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The AVMA Board of Directors reiterated the Association’s support for diversity and inclusion during its April 7-9 meeting in Schaumburg, Illinois, and Board members issued a statement to that effect, which was posted April 11 on the AVMA website at jav.ma/avmastatement. The action came after discussion on whether to comment on two controversial laws passed this spring in North Carolina and Mississippi related to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Current AVMA President Joe Kinnarney noted that the AVMA’s statement does not directly address the laws, adding that, “It’s really a statement of us accepting diversity and being inclusive and making sure all of our members—regardless of minority issues—are treated with respect and dignity. So, it’s really an overall statement of inclusion and acceptance.”

The statement references new wording in the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics the Board approved that calls on veterinarians to “confront and reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination.”

New state laws passed

On March 23, North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB 2) was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory. It requires transgender people in government buildings and public schools to use bathrooms that match the biological sex indicated on their birth certificates. The law also restricts cities from passing broad nondiscrimination laws.

Then, on April 5, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. The law allows denial of certain services to the LGBT community on the basis of any of three religious beliefs—that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is proper only within such a marriage, and that people are male or female based on their genetics and anatomy at birth.

The laws have since attracted national attention. Some corporations and organizations have criticized the laws, saying they discriminate against LGBT people. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges put out a statement expressing concern about the North Carolina bill after it became law, saying it is at odds with the AAVMC’s Principles of Inclusion.

Dr. Montgomery comments during AVMA Board of Directors meeting
The AVMA Board of Directors reiterated the Association’s support for diversity and inclusion during its April 7-9 meeting. Here, Dr. Timothy Montgomery, chair of the House Advisory Committee, comments during the deliberations. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

“Because our principles challenge us to actively confront and reject discrimination and prejudice, AAVMC will not hold meetings or sponsor events in North Carolina unless we can ensure that all participants at our events will be treated with dignity, respect, and equality under the law,” said Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, executive director of AAVMC. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust our position if warranted by subsequent changes in the law.”

Neither North Carolina State University’s nor Mississippi State University’s veterinary college has made public comments. However, NCSU’s chancellor put out a statement—available here—as did MSU’s president—available here.

Matt Holland, Student AVMA president, said SAVMA leadership was unanimously against the passage of those laws and supports the AVMA statement that was released.

Making a statement

The board debated the merits of issuing a statement after Dr. Kinnarney introduced a recommendation that the AVMA do so.

A mixed animal practitioner in Reidsville, North Carolina, Dr. Kinnarney said a transgender veterinary student who planned to move to North Carolina for a residency had contacted him with concerns following passage of the state law.

He also had spoken with North Carolina VMA leaders, who said that while they chose not to make a statement, they supported the AVMA’s decision to craft one.

Dr. Rebecca Stinson, AVMA vice president and a North Carolina resident, said to keep in mind that it would not be in the NCVMA’s best interest to publicly oppose the legislation. “They have a good relationship with the state legislature, and it would do them harm if they came out against the policy,” she said.

The AVMA issued a similar statement a year ago when Indiana passed a religious freedom law, available at jav.ma/indstatement.

Ultimately, the board agreed to issue a statement, which reads, “As the national professional association for veterinarians in the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) represents and supports a diverse community of veterinarians with unique perspectives. We are committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the veterinary profession so we can best serve animals, the public and our members. Thus, it is always disheartening whenever potentially discriminatory legislation is being passed or considered anywhere.

“All individuals have a right to live in peace, a right to be treated with dignity, a right to equality of opportunity, and a right to education. To this end, the AVMA supports the Equality Act of 2015, which is a federal bill that amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Veterinarians are compassionate, trustworthy and highly educated people. As it states in the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics, as health professionals seeking to advance animal and public health, veterinarians should strive to confront and reject all forms of prejudice and discrimination that may lead to impediments to access of quality animal and public health care for clients/patients. This also holds true for educational, training, and employment opportunities for veterinary colleagues/students and other members of the animal health care team. These forms of prejudice and discrimination include, but are not limited to, race; ethnicity; physical and mental abilities; gender; sexual orientation; gender identity; parental status; religious beliefs; military or veteran status; political beliefs; geographic, socioeconomic, and educational background; and any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law.”

Revised ethics policy

Revisions to the AVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics relating to diversity and inclusion were also approved at the Board meeting and cited in the statement. The document had been amended at the behest of the AVMA House of Delegates and Dr. Elizabeth Sabin, associate director for international and diversity initiatives.


Principle IX
A veterinarian should view, evaluate, and treat all persons in any professional activity or circumstance in which they may be involved, solely as individuals on the basis of their own personal abilities, qualifications, and other relevant characteristics.