When your patient asks you if you have a boyfriend…and you’re a lesbian

I started working in the hospital at the end of January. Since then, I have been asked about my relationship status by what present as mostly cisgender white heterosexual men on a number of occasions. Sometimes it’s someone your own age. Sometimes it’s someone older. Sometimes it’s someone who’s really old. Up until now, I have been pretending I didn’t hear the question or just smiling and saying I don’t have a boyfriend. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on how I am going to react moving forward. As a cisgender white femme who apparently doesn’t “look gay”, perhaps I could leverage my privilege to start having conversations about difference. Of course, I have considered continuing to skirt or avoid answering these questions, which frankly have nothing to do with our relationship as nurse and patient, however my silence is a privilege that benefits no one. Of late, I figure perhaps the next time one of my patients asks me about my boyfriend, I will clarify that what I have is a girlfriend. I would smile and I would do it generously, careful to protect our therapeutic relationship. The thought of making my queerness visible at work with my patients scares me. What if someone doesn’t want me to care for them when they find out? What if they say awful things? It’s a vulnerable place for me to go which makes me reflect on just how privileged I am to have the ability to feel safe because I can hide my difference. 
I am beginning to wonder if this is an opportunity for some sort of upstream patient teaching about difference. Nursing is my leverage point as it expands my access to the center. This is where my work is and it is where I can effect real change. I imagine there are other people like me who can begin to normalize difference from the center. People who are of difference and occupy structural positions of power could begin having conversations about what makes us different. People listen to white people so white people need to have difficult conversations with other white people about white privilege. We need to start to figure out what we can do with our privilege that will begin to pull differences from the margin and into the center. So that those who have been historically marginalized – specifically and intentionally Black, Indigenous and People of Color – see themselves represented in a way that white people take for granted. This is a time that calls for change. Queer nurses have a unique opportunity to challenge normative scripts by initiating generous conversations with people who don’t see us as different because they can’t see our difference. I don’t imagine that this involves outing ourselves to every patient however given an opportunity to clarify that I don’t have a boyfriend and in fact, I have a healthy, loving relationship with a woman means that I can leverage my privilege in a way that disrupts heteronormative spaces that fail to reflect difference. This would also entail having conversations with colleagues that gently challenge heteronormative narratives that govern workspaces. I have found that this feels like a safer space for me to challenge the narrative but it’s time to move outside that space now. It’s time to get to work on expanding the center so that difference is an expectation, not a surprise.
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Clinical Advisor: Healthcare issues of the LGBT community

Designed for healthcare professionals, the website ClinicalAdvisor.com offers regular updates. A recent topic includes “Healthcare Issues of the LGBT Community.”

The article is open access: http://www.clinicaladvisor.com/practice-management-information-center/healthcare-issues-of-the-lgbt-community-what-the-primary-care-clinician-should-know/article/509329/


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Is Your School of Nursing a SafeZone?

Walking through the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Nursing I noticed over a dozen square stickers outside faculty doors saying, “SafeZone for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally” in rainbow letters. As a nursing student at LSU, I was thrilled to see anSZ-sticker-200x200 copy indication that nursing faculty participated in an LGBTQ training and was eager to find out more. I learned that over 20 faculty in the  LSU School of Nursing participated in a comprehensive training program put on by the Gay Alliance. The newly trained faculty members will now offer LGBTQ  training to interested students, faculty, and staff throughout the health sciences center. They also plan to establish a resource webpage linked to the school of nursing. This will make it easier for potential LSU nursing students to identify that the university has a student culture that embraces diversity and emphasizes inclusion.

There is tangible difference in the way I feel at school now. I am less fearful when speaking up in class to advocate for the inclusion of LGBT health issues in class. I am more likely to bring up my partner in conversation when a group of students are discussing their families with a new nursing instructor. I am more confident that I can be myself and that I will be accepted. Indeed, this is a profound transformation in how I feel about my university and all it took was this small square sticker that said to me, “I see you. You are a valued. You are safe here.”

The organization providing the training, the Gay Alliance, was founded in Rochester, NY after the 1969 Stonewall Riots, and has advocated for the rights and safety of the LGBT community for over 40 years. Through their LGBTQ Academy, the Gay Alliance provided an interactive 8 hour “train the trainer” curriculum for staff and faculty at LSU. This instruction was focused on creating an educational system that is”inclusive and welcoming to the LGBTQ community and allied individuals”. If your school of nursing is interested in learning more about this training please click here: SafeZone Training.


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Complicated Grief

The deaths of 49 members of the queer community at Orlando’s Pulse dance club (whether or not they were self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people) has evoked a variety of emotional responses, chief among them grief.

Grief is our personal or communal experience of loss. Although we typically think of loss in terms of the death of a loved one, other losses also produce grief. In most instances we have at our disposal socially sanctioned ways of externalizing our grief in rituals and other practices of mourning. Vigils, memorial services, funerals, memorials and shrines all provide opportunities for personal and communal expression of grief.


But what happens when something obstructs our  being able to acknowledge our loss, experience and express our grief, and publicly mourn?

  • Consider the customers at Pulse who couldn’t tell their families, friends and co-workers about their trauma because they’re not out of the closet.
  • Consider the parents and other family members who only learned of their loved ones’ sexuality by learning that they had been murdered and where.
  • Consider the intimate partners who lost beloveds but, because they’ve not disclosed their sexualities to family and friends, cannot mourn.

Circumstances like these produced what is known as complicated grief.

According to Columbia University’s Center for Complicated Grief, “When grief is complicated the pain can be unrelenting and life seems empty of any possibility for happiness.”

Fortunately, complicated grief can be treated:

Complicated grief treatment (CGT) has been rigorously tested in three large studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The treatment is administered in 16 weekly sessions using techniques derived from interpersonal therapy, motivational interviewing, positive psychology and cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you are apprehensive about treatment that can last a long time you may be happy to hear that this treatment is short-term.

In addition to losing friends and other loved ones, queer people in Orlando and elsewhere lost a sacred space and a sense of trust and safety. Others who have lived under the shadow of abuse and violence have had old traumas triggered into fresh pain.

Complicated grief takes time and professional help to heal, but that treatment relies on our own innate capacities and resilience: “I will survive.”


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First Lesbian Landmark Added to US National Register of Historic Places

On May 2,2016, the US National Park Service  approved the designation of the house at 219 11th Street SE, Washington. DC, as an historic landmark.  From 1971-1973 this house was the home of the Furies Collective, a group of women who published a newsletter and articles that led the early discourse and debates that laid the foundation for social and political activism, and the development of lesbian theories and philosophies. The story of the house, and the project of obtaining this significant designation, is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation website.  Additional informationa about the Furies and this important historical designation is also reported on Slate.com

Here is the summary statement of significance from the registration document:

The Furies Collective, historically located at 219 11th Street SE, meets National Register Criterion A with Social History as the Area of Significance. The Furies Collective house is directly connected with the early expression and definition of the character, role, and ideology of the lesbian community as a social and political dc_washingtondc_furieshouse_0001_copy.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2community in itself, and within the second-wave women’s movement and American society in general in the early 1970s. The house became the operational center of the lesbian feminist separatist collective, the Furies, between late 1971 and the autumn of 1973 which created and led the debate over lesbians’ place in society. The twelve women in the collective published a lesbian feminist edition of motive magazine, a youth magazine of the United Methodist Church, and more importantly, a tabloid-size newspaper titled The Furies which over a period of two years raised and discussed major questions of women’s identity, women’s relationships with other women, with men, and with society at large. That newspaper and its sister publication, the lesbian feminist issue of motive, set the issues and agenda of lesbian and feminist discussion for many years to come. (Link to Furies Collective Registration Form)

Many thanks to Sharon Deevey who shared this information with us!  Sharon was a member of the Furies Collective, and later in the 1980s also a member of Cassandra: Radical Feminist Nurses Network.

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