"I grew up with two moms. From a very early age I had experiences around queer people…it takes a village and my village was full of lesbians. Because of that, I never really viewed myself as different. It definitely made my coming out experience a little unique because there wasn’t really a day when I came out. I was honestly just on the phone with my mom and she asked what I was doing tonight. I told her I was going on a date with a boy, and that was that, and that’s how it should be I think. Conversely, however, I have had the experience of coming out to healthcare providers my entire life. And not only my coming out but also my moms’. My parents aren’t married and couldn’t be married when I was a young person. As a result, there were legal matters that I had to be aware of as a young person because my mom’s partner would take me to the doctor or the dentist, like parents do, and often, it would get hard. Growing up, I would see different providers and the question was always, 'are you here with mom or dad?,' and I would then have to awkwardly explain I was with neither. I would then watch as the provider’s demeanor shifted. So, as you can imagine, it was a bit awkward. I always had to out my parents. I felt like I was constantly explaining the process of queer parenting to other people, and it was in those instances when I was aware of how differently I was being treated. Even recently, I went to the eye doctor with my mom and the doctor could just not figure out how we could be related. My mom’s partner is a little older, and this doctor was just so set on trying to figure out how she gave birth to me. In my head I was like, ‘well she didn’t but that’s also none of your business.' I live in Chicago now, but I was raised in a Grand Rapids, MI, a very conservative place, and as a result, I feel like I have always needed to navigate these situations. There’s a line between being proud of myself and being proud of my family but also having this awkward moment of shame that other people in the world put onto me because I am proud of those things and because they often don’t understand.
My childhood primary care provider never asked me about my sexuality. But for a while, that was alright because I don’t think I would have wanted to tell someone that wasn’t asking in the first place. So even though I grew up loving my family and being proud of where I came from, the way providers treated me because of my family structure really delayed my involvement in LGBTQ+ centered healthcare.
I have two sisters. Sexuality has always been a fluid non-issue between all of us. As kids, and still as adults, we kind of just relied on each other to navigate these situations of others’ shock and confusion and disapproval. So one of the biggest things, I think, a kid or teen can have when they have queer parents and find themselves in healthcare situations is a support system. No matter the healthcare issue, it is important that you are able to walk away from those situations and have people that can help you through it. And it also helps to be proud of who you are and your family structure—Never let anyone tell you otherwise. I know it’s hard as a young person, but be sure of who you are. Know that you are beautiful and you are NOT wrong. I speak from personal experience on this because when I was growing up, I made the conscious decision not to share my family structure with people in my high school and in my community. This decision was largely because I went to a catholic school in a conservative area of Michigan, and hell fire would have been raised if people were directly faced with queer parents. So if my parents were in public, they assumed strict roles that were separated in space and time. No one met them at the same time and it was really unique…As a young person I was having all of these feelings of shame because I was attracted to guys, but I channeled that shame into my family structure. This shame, though, never went away and it negatively impacted my mental health in a drastic way. This, I would say, was one of the lowest points in my journey, because in high school, when I was dealing with my own sexuality and the 'secret' of my family, I was the least proud of who my family was. I didn’t recognize how important it is to be proud of my family because I didn’t realize they are not wrong. It was just the people around me who didn’t understand love that thought it was wrong."
"I think my first real experience with LGBTQ+ healthcare was my experience with HIV testing. I didn’t really have any gay friends in college, so I felt like I was approaching this without much background or support. The experience of getting tested, for me, was largely made up of unlearning the things that initially made me hesitant to pursue LGBTQ+ healthcare. For example, I had a teacher in high school who, every Tuesday, would offer us extra credit if we went to the Planned Parenthood and protested outside of it with her, and this experience, and many others, were just a few of the reasons why I was so hesitant to pursue LGBTQ+ healthcare. So as an adult going to get STI testing in my hometown, I felt very limited in my ability to receive good healthcare—I didn’t even know where to start.
Now, though, I work for the Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority
Health at Northwestern on a research project which stands as the largest longitudinal study of queer male at birth folks in the United States. We have about 1,200-1,300 young gay and bisexual folks, cis men and trans women as well as nonbinary individuals enrolled in the study. Being a part of this work has really allowed me to understand myself, my own health, and details of the LGBTQ+ community at large. I have conversations about people’s reactive HIV and STI results. It can be emotionally and structurally complex, and it has taught me so much. It is an incredible honor to be a part of that moment in time for our patients. It has made me quite passionate about health education. So much so that I decided to pursue a master’s in nursing. I think nurses are really at the front lines of educating their patients and can have a huge impact by providing queer education to LGBTQ+ patients as well as straight folk.
I do get a bit exhausted with the occasional slowness of a nursing education. It is exhausting to sit in a class, touch on an issue, and have teachers stop because 'no, I’m not going to let you talk about this subject in this way…here are the (often arcane and not fully truthful) facts.' And this slowness, and archaic-ness, in some sense, typically involves LGBTQ+ issues. I recognize my privilege as a cis white man, and I feel like I have a responsibility to stand up for these issues because other people might not be able to. I would like to share a story because I think it speaks to the importance of using our voice and being an ally in LBGTQ+ healthcare and healthcare education.
When I started nursing school, there was a person who was transitioning in my class. It was my understanding that they were still kind of navigating the path themselves, feeling out a new name and pronouns. And in our first class, our teacher introduced themselves and said 'I’m ____ and I use these pronouns. Oh, and get use to including pronouns because they need to be used and we are nonbinary and trans allies in this classroom.' Which was amazing! But then I went to the next class, and I was the only person who used their pronouns in my introduction. By the time we got to my classmate, they introduced themselves using their pronouns. Class went on and afterwards this person came up to me and said, 'I really appreciated you using your pronouns because I wouldn’t have done that myself. And for me, that prevents awkward conversations later on so…thank you. It made me feel safer.' I walked away from that conversation realizing how much of a burden I can lift with this simple act of stating my own pronouns and by normalizing LGBT+ affirming practices at large."
"So I mentioned this before, but I grew up pretty Catholic. I would consider myself more Christian than Catholic today, but religion has definitely influenced my perception of the queer community. The biggest thing I have taken away from my belief system is this—God, or whoever you believe created this earth for us…they gave us gifts. It is our responsibility to recognize those gifts, to embrace them, and to utilize them by making the world a better place.For a long time, I didn’t recognize being gay as a gift. After years of my identity being a burden, I missed that it could be a gift. So…for those that are reading this…know that, although your identity doesn’t necessarily define you, it is an amazing gift. Make sure you combine it with all of the other gifts that you have been given and apply it to your life and share it with those around you." -Michael P., Chicago (he/him/his)