The week before starting dental school, I brought my partner along with my family, to my white coat ceremony. At the end of the event, while congratulating my parents, an administrator I had recently met pulled my dad aside and told him, “If you want your son to do well, tell him not to bring his ‘friend’ around anymore.”
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities has identified the LGBTQ community as a “health disparity population,” due primarily to lowered access to health care. Unfortunately, some of this comes down to LGBTQ+ patients avoiding medical treatment due to past discrimination and fear of stigma. When LGBTQ people belong to other marginalized groups, such as being a person of color or having a disability, it becomes more and more difficult to find accessible, non-biased care.
The experience of being a queer dentist and working with many patients that have faced discrimination has inspired the creation of the Houston Equality Dental Network (HEDN), an organized dentistry group specifically for LGBTQ dental professionals and patients.
The purpose of our organization is to advance equality for queer dental professionals in their work and learning environments, while also fostering awareness and research in oral health disparities in this population.
In the past several months, a team of like-minded dentists and myself have worked to share the news. After several of phone calls, emails, and hosting various professional networking events, we’ve created a roster of over 30 dentists, all who identify as LGBTQ in the Greater Houston area, wanting to be involved in our organization.
As an organization, some of our objectives are to raise awareness and advocacy, host continuing education courses, increase access to care, raise money for student scholarships, and begin to work with the local dental school to ensure they include LGBTQ-related education in their curriculum.
One of the major accomplishments that we’ve had since August includes hosting two professional networking events. Often times, dental professionals that are LGBTQ do not always feel comfortable or accepted in the environment of organized dentistry, so it was important to me to create a safe space for LGBTQ dentists to feel comfortable with being themselves in an environment that may sometimes feel hostile or uneasy.
We are currently working on an online directory where patients in Houston can search for an LGBTQ dentist in their area. This directory will also be beneficial on a professional level, as it will act as a network for dentists to refer patients to when needed.
Some short-term goals include establishing regular continuing education courses on topics including LGBTQ health disparities, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS. We also hope to give back to the local LGBTQ community and are currently working alongside local organizations targeting LGBTQ homeless youth, and LGBTQ seniors. With the help of our donors, we are also planning on providing our first scholarship for in the fall of 2020.
My vision for the long-term is clear. As we progress with this organization at a local level, I hope to expand what we are doing to other major cities and eventually, nation-wide. I want to change the profession of dentistry to one where LGBTQ professionals are not only tolerated, but celebrated. I want to continue to work in educating other dentists on the diversity that comes with gender and sexuality, and how they can better serve this community. Additionally, it is important to us to work with dental schools in creating a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ patients, students, and staff.
For more information, visit Houston Equality Dental Network’s website.
Dr. Alex Barrera is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and practices general dentistry at Avenue 360 Health & Wellness in Houston, Texas. He graduated in 2017 from the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston and is a member of various organizations including the: American Dental Association, Hispanic Dental Association, Greater Houston Dental Association, and the Houston Equality Dental Network. He currently serves as the chair of the New Dentist Committee for the Hispanic Dental Association and is in the current class of the ADA’s Institute for Diversity in Leadership. Dr. Barrera is a participant in the National Health Service Corps and alumni of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking and staying active with CrossFit and Yoga.
Editor’s note: The ADA is committed to diversity and inclusion. Read the Diversity and Inclusion plan and learn more about the Institute for Diversity in Leadership on ADA.org. What would you like to see the ADA do to increase diversity and inclusion across the tripartite? Leave your answer in the comments.