skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXIV, No. 16
August 3, 2012
cover

next story


‘Out of the Closet, Into the Lab’
LGBT Pride Month Panel Speaks To Workplace Issues

On the front page...

Dr. Mark Schuster of Harvard and Dr. Susan Newcomer of NICHD

Dr. Mark Schuster of Harvard and Dr. Susan Newcomer of NICHD

Dr. Matthew Hoffman was a postdoc when he came to NIH in 1994 as a visiting fellow. He had already earned a dental degree and had just completed a Ph.D. in microbiology and immuno-logy. He was also openly gay. Throughout his academic and professional career, he actively sought out mentors who were both supportive about his scientific aspirations and his personal life. So when he applied for postdoc positions at NIH he looked for a boss who fostered and nurtured a diverse lab environment. He thought that being open about being gay made it less of an issue in the workplace and he could focus on science.

In 2004, he became principal investigator and chief of his own lab at NIDCR. He continues to cultivate diversity in his own lab.

Continued...

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 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 Dr. Matthew Hoffman
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.”

‘Straightforward…but Careful’

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.

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 (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 thoughtful consideration.

“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 approach.

Castro offers a big-picture view

Castro offers a big-picture view of recent and steady progress in medical education and LGBT programs.

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.


back to top of page