Pride 50th anniversary: Five ways you can be a better ally dentist

At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, eight policemen arrived at the Stonewall Inn and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!”

Photo of Dr. Barrera

Dr. Barrera

At the time, police raids at gay bars were nothing new — for years, the police would overtake queer establishments to make arrests, extort money, and blackmail LGBTQ+ individuals seeking safe spaces, but this time was different. At the time, homosexual acts remained illegal in every state, and bars and restaurants could get shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons. With years of oppression, hate, and violence against them, the 205 patrons at the Stonewall Inn that night had had enough.

Accounts vary over exactly what kicked off the riots, but according to witness reports, the crowd erupted after police physically beat lesbian activist Storme DeLarverie after she cried that her handcuffs were too tight. Two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were said to have resisted arrest and thrown the first bottle at the police. The next few events remain unclear as the rioting escalated and continued throughout the night. The Stonewall Riots lasted for six days and became a monumental moment for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.

One year later, on June 28, 1970, the nation’s first Pride march took place in New York City.

Now, 50 years later, while much progress has been made, LGBTQ+ individuals remain oppressed and discriminated against, especially in the realm of health care. Fortunately, organizations such as the Houston Equality Dental Network have created a platform to bring awareness to the health disparities that the queer community faces while also educating dental professionals on how to better serve this population. As health care and dentistry continue to make progress, the only way we can have true equality is through the allyship of our heterosexual colleagues and those in leadership positions.

Here are five ways you can become a better ally and ensure your office is welcoming for LGBTQ+ community.

  1. Recognize your privilege and use it for good
    • It’s difficult to understand the realities of discrimination without experiencing them first-hand. These societal advantages are known as privilege and is not necessarily a bad thing, if we can recognize it. Simply existing as a heterosexual person is a privilege for countless reasons such as not being fired from your job for you sexuality and being able to hold your partner’s hand in public without fear. Recognize that you are not responsible for the discrimination, but you are responsible for what you do with that knowledge, how you move on from there, and what you do with your privilege.
  2. Learn and use inclusive language
    • It’s important for all of us, but especially health care providers to use the right words and pronouns when referring to someone or describing their gender identity or sexual orientation. Do not assume someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation and ask if you’re unsure and if it’s appropriate. A list of some basic LGBTQ+ terms can be found at: https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms
  3. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
    • You might make mistakes when trying to be a better ally at first, and that’s okay. Making non-intentional mistakes is how learning happens. It may also be difficult to show your allyship, in fear that friends or patients may not share your same beliefs. Standing up for your values during these challenging conversations and encounters will make you a more confident ally and will give you the respect of other patients and staff.
  4. Be visible as an ally
    • Often times, the smallest thing can make a huge impact. Little things such as decorating your office for pride month, making a post on social media, or advertising in an LGBTQ+ magazine will show your support as an LGBTQ+ affirming dental professional.
  5. Don’t minimize my queerness
    • I cannot count how many times I have been told something along the lines of “I couldn’t tell you were gay” or “oh, but you’re not that gay.” Every queer person relates to their queerness differently, so telling someone that you don’t acknowledge or think about their queerness is not a compliment and makes us feel like you think of our queerness as something that’s better left unsaid.

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.

10 comments

  • Steve Geiermann DDS

    As a proud gay man, dentist and retired U.S. Public Health Service officer, I can say that it hasn’t always been easy, but being “out and transparent” in all of my professional settings over the year has been productive. It is always easier to stand back and be quiet, but sharing your “full personhood” does bear good fruit in most circumstances. People see you as “you” and not simply as a stereotype.

    Happy Pride to everyone!

  • Well said Doc. In particular, the point you make about making mistakes – and learning.

  • #3 is an excellent point! Wonderful article Alex, and thanks for sharing a few links to some great resources too!

  • Nice article! It’s really great to see this conversation and it is nice guidance for the many offices out there that truly want to be welcoming and safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.

    I’m particularly proud of my team and how we treat all members of our community with respect. We have been a safe place for dentistry and, I was able to demonstrate first hand, how even a gay dentist can slip up and make a pronoun mistake. We are all human.

    When we show our humanity to others it is beautiful. When we take our moments of mistake or misunderstanding and simply acknowledge and learn, we grow and become a better practice, and practitioners, as a result.

    The irony is that even as a healthcare provider, I personally, have avoided medical care because I wasn’t sure how I would be treated in a medical office. As we look to little things like simply asking “how would you prefer to be addressed?” we can make a world of difference to people who will see it for what it is, a moment of connection and compassion.

    In Seattle, we are fortunate to have a very understanding and accepting community, but even here it is not universal, and the little fears crop up. Thank you for this great post, and thank you to the ADA for recognizing it prominently. Of course, with the monumental timing of the Supreme Court decision yesterday, it is even that much better.

  • Fantastic article! Very well said, much needed and much appreciated!

    Happy Pride everyone!

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