After 18 years and counting at NIH, he couldn’t be happier with his career here.
But not everyone has as smooth a professional coming-out process as Hoffman, according to Dr. Mark Schuster, Dr. Judith Bradford and Dr. Scout. All four are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who, along with employment equity expert Ida Castro, formed a panel to discuss LGBT issues in the workplace at “Out of the Closet and Into the Lab,” NIH’s program recognizing LGBT Pride Month.
‘Welcoming and Inclusive’
Sponsored by NIH’s LGBT employee committee Salutaris in partnership with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, the event’s goal was simple: Start a conversation. With everyone’s creativity and cooperation, an open dialogue will help NIH in its mission to enhance health for all people by providing an environment where diverse people work together productively.
|Among panelists are (from l) former chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Ida Castro, vice president of social justice and diversity at Commonwealth Medical School in Pennsylvania; Harvard Medical School’s Schuster; and NIDCR’s Dr. Matthew Hoffman
“These are the core values of my office—the pursuit of civil rights and equity for all,” said newly appointed OEODM Director Debra Chew, introducing the program commemorating the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, celebrated as the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.
In opening remarks, NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak talked briefly about the recent work the agency has done to advance LGBT health research and about efforts to make NIH’s workplace more inclusive.
“We want to ensure that every person who wants to participate in biomedical research is able to participate,” he said. “We need to ensure that our researchers and our fellows and our administrators—both on and off campus—are able to come to NIH and be confident that they will find a welcoming and inclusive environment.”
Gathered for a photo with event poster are program participants (from l) OEODM Director Debra Chew, Castro, NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, Dr. Judith Bradford of the Fenway Institute, Dr. Scout of the Network for LGBT Health Equity, Schuster and Hoffman.
Photos: Michael Spencer
Schuster, William Berenberg professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, recently published a journal article about his own career trajectory as a gay man in the field of medicine and biomedical research. As a panelist, he shared feedback he received from others in the LGBT community after his article was picked up by major media outlets.
“I got an outpouring of email…a lot from people I
don’t know,” he said. “What I was struck by was people
sharing their lives, telling lots of details about
their coming out, things that echoed my own experience,
people asking for advice, people still experiencing
discrimination, remaining closeted. I was struck
by the need to share, the search for empathy.”
Bradford (l), who directs the NICHD-funded Center
for Population Research in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Health, and Scout discuss the need to
find supportive mentors. Bradford has served in that
capacity over the years for Scout.
Bradford, cochair of the Fenway Institute and director
of the NICHD-funded Center for Population
Research in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
Health, said the climate for LGBT people to safely
disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity
has improved gradually over the course of the
last 30 years or so. She began grappling with these
issues as a doctoral student and university faculty
member. She said having a strong, supportive
mentor to discuss her concerns and provide advice
increased her confidence that disclosure could be
done without retribution. Still, Bradford urged
“Be straightforward, but be careful,” she advised,
offering her own personal strategies. “Don’t put
yourself in a position where you could be hurt or
lose your job…Strategies that people use need to be
adapted to the environment. We need to be honest
about who we are and we need to find people who
can support us in that.”
‘Being a Pioneer’
Castro, a former chair of the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, offered a big-picture view
of recent and steady progress in medical education
and LGBT programs.
Looking at leadership, resources, curriculum, work
environment and inclusion, she mentioned three
“best-practices” models at large universities that
have addressed LGBT concerns specifically: University
of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine’s
Opening Doors retreat, New York University’s
certification program and Boston University’s longitudinal
Castro offers a big-picture view
of recent and steady progress in
medical education and LGBT
Scout, who goes by that single name, is a research
scientist and director of the Network for LGBT
Health Equity at the Fenway Institute. He talked
about the recent past when scientifically justified
LGBT research was under intense scrutiny by Congress.
Scout recalled that some investigator colleagues
were asked to take LGBT language out of
their research titles “because unfortunately the
political climate was intruding in the research climate…
I realize how much that throttled the field.”
About his burgeoning scientific career, Scout said
he experienced both outright and subtle discrimination,
particularly when trying to get into
graduate school. “There’s very much this sense of
being a pioneer,” he said, “and in being a pioneer
you are vulnerable.”
In contrast, Hoffman, senior investigator and
chief of NIDCR’s matrix and morphogenesis section,
described only positive experiences both in
grad school in upstate New York and here at NIH.
“For me it was really important to go to a lab
where—apart from the good science and the
good mentoring—I saw diversity expressed in
that lab,” he said of his search for a job. As head
of his own lab now, Hoffman said the scientist in
him deliberately seeks out potential employees with differences.
“We need a range of opinions,” he explained, “and we get that range of opinions,
we get that range of outlook on science by having a diverse group of people
working with us.”
Over the course of the program, panelists tackled a variety of questions from
openness on resumes and mentorship to gay teens and isolation. You can watch
the whole videocast at http://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=11409.