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Support for Discrimination and Marginalization? Not Surprising

Op Ed
Sonia Fang, Western University
On March 14, posted an article entitled “Minority students report strong support from veterinary schools, but racism and sexism remain, study says”.  The article provided preliminary results from the Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) climate study conducted by Lisa Greenhill (Associate Executive Director for Institutional Research and Diversity at the AAVMC).  Some of the results included that one in five female veterinary students reported hearing sexist language at their school, and LGBT students reported they did not have a faculty or staff member to confide in at higher rates than those students who did not identify as LGBT.  In response to the article, DVM NewsMagazine published a letter from Dr. Larry Fisher of Topeka, Kansas.

I was disappointed and disturbed by the letter printed in DVM NewsMagazine.  On a purely factual level, the statements leveled against LGBT students are not founded in current historical analysis, and the myth that homosexuality has lead to society’s decline has been debunked repeatedly.[1]  Not to mention, even if there were civilizations for which an increase in homosexual activity coincided with a society’s purported decline, there would still be the classic issue of confusing correlation with causation, a definite and basic no-no in evidence-based research.  There isn’t evidence for homosexuality correlating with the destruction of civilizations, much less any research performed demonstrating its causation. 
Regardless of the factual inaccuracies, I was taken aback because the printing of this letter was, in itself, telling of the problems that we as LGBT veterinary students face on a systemic level.  LGBT students have to contend with knowing that established veterinarians, editors of professional magazines, professors, faculty, staff, and potential employers are capable of possessing the same opinions as those that were printed.  There is not just a difference of opinion here, but a difference in the level of power and the level of outreach a student has in comparison to established veterinarians and editors of professional magazines.  As LGBT people, we know very well that “different values will always elicit different reactions.”   For example, I can be of the opinion that gay people deserve to be treated as equal members of society.  Anyone else is free to hold the opinion that gay people do not deserve to be treated as equal members of society.  The problem is that while we are both free and able to hold differing opinions, LGBT people are the ones to suffer when power dynamics are at play, and when a differing opinion becomes coded as discrimination into our institutions and the law.  For example, as of 2011, only 8 veterinary schools in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean explicitly protected students from being discriminated on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.[2]  In 29 states, veterinarians can be fired just for being LGBT.[3]  For example, in Kansas, an executive order bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but only in public employment.[4]  So for employees of private veterinary clinics in Kansas, one can be fired for being LGBT and have it be completely condoned by state law.   
These things have weighed heavily on my mind throughout my education, but weigh heavily especially now in my final year of school.  I would love to live and work in a world where only my qualities as a capable, competent, and caring veterinarian play into my ability to be employed, but it is apparent that there are more forces at work.  I live, day in and day out, with the understanding that I can be fired just for being who I am.  I live, day in and day out, with the knowledge that there are veterinarians out there who would gladly attribute my existence to the fall of modern-day society.  I live, day in and day out, with the uncertainty of knowing when I’ll be treated as a full member of society.  Science has shown that living with these burdens of discrimination negatively impact LGBT people, and that an environment of anti-LGBT stigma, prejudice, and discrimination results in higher rates of stress, alienation, depression, and mental health problems.[5],[6],[7],[8],[9]  In addition, research has shown that those who are not “out” experience more adverse effects than those who are.[10],[11]    
These are the very reasons that groups like the LGVMA and Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association are important, and these are the very reasons that support for LGBT students is critical.  I am disappointed and disturbed that this inaccurate and discriminatory statement was found to be fit for publication in DVM NewsMagazine, in the very face of an article referencing lack of support for LGBT students.  I am glad, however, that the response was published because it gives LGBT students and allies an idea of how much more progress needs to be made.  I am grateful that student publications like The Vet Gazette provide a platform for advancing the dialogue.  
Here are some more helpful articles for debunking gay myths:
[1] Lesbian Resource Center, YWCA of University of Washington, Seattle.  “Beyond Tolerance: Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals on Campus.”  Accessed 12 July 2012.  <>
[2] Fang, Sonia.  “How LGBT-friendly is your veterinary school?”  Broad Spectrum Veterinary Student Association.  Accessed 9 Sept 2012.  <> 2 July 2011. 
[3] Hunt, Jerome.  2012.  “A State-by-State Examination of Nondiscrimination Laws and Policies.”  Center for American Progress Action Fund.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hatzenbuehler ML, McLaughlin KA, Keyes KM, Hasin DS.  2010.  “The Impact of Institutional Discrimination on Psychiatric Disorders in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: A Prospective Study.”  American Journal of Public Health 100(3): 452-459.
[6] Meyer IH.  2003.  “Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence.”  Psychological Bulletin 129(5):674-679.
[7] King M, Semlyen J, See Tai S, Killaspy H, Osborn D, Popelyuk D, Nazareth I.  2008.  “A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”  BMC Psychiatry 8(70).  <>
[8] Hatzenbuehler ML, Nolen-Hoeksema S, Dovidio J.  2009.  “How Does Stigma ‘Get Under the Skin’?” Psychological Science 20(10):1282-1289. 
[9] Bogart LM, Wagner GJ, Galvan FH, Landrine H, Klein DJ, Sticklor LA.  2011.  “Perceived Discrimination and Mental Health Symptoms among Black Men with HIV.”  Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol 17(3): 295-302.
[10] Hatzenbuehler et al, 2009.
[11] Bogart et al, 2011. 


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Reader Comments (2)

Thank you for the very well written response. I know that I lost 1 job due to being an out lesbian. But, I have also been hired by wonderful owners who support me fully. There is life out there for all of us, even if we don't have the full equal rights all persons in the US should have. I hope to see that happen in my lifetime. Shame on our professional journals for allowing discrimination to be allowed.
November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJan F Walsh DVM
"Looking upon differently" is what I would call discrimination. It cannot be justified, never. Claiming that different values are a good reason for discrimination is unethical and wrong. There should be no room for discrimination in any teaching institution. Educators should always be at the side of a student who is discriminated; this is part of our job, and it is as important as teaching good medicine.
Carlo Siracusa, University of Pennsylvania
November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarlo Siracusa DVM
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