News - May 1996

Queer doctors clarify mission by removing transpeople

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a move that left transexual members stunned and angry, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious organizations for queer physicians, has backed away from its policy of trans-inclusion, only recently implemented, and removed all reference to transpeople from its letterhead and mission statement.

While GLMA began officially welcoming transphysicians as members in 1994, describing itself in its letterhead and literature as "a U.S. and Canadian organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered physicians, medical students, and their supporters," in an unpublicized and unannounced move during its February 16 meeting in Washington, DC, GLMA Board members voted to strike "transgender" from the group's description.

The word "Canadian" was also removed in the same motion. The Board has emphasized that transgendered physicians (and presumably Canadians) are still welcome in GLMA.

Neither GLMA transmembers, nor its general membership, were consulted or informed in this action, learning of it only during the last week of March, when a disgruntled Board member leaked word to founding member and transexual physician Joy Shaffer, MD, a San Jose internist. While some members are troubled by the vote, others have seen the covert handling of the matter as equally troubling.

In a letter send to GLMA transmember Anne Lawrence, MD, GLMA President Valerie Ulstad, MD explained that the decision to remove transpeople grew from the Board's conviction that GLMA should better define its mission. Although transphysicians comprise under .05% of GLMA members, Dr. Ulstad stated the Board doubted whether it had the resources or expertise to effectively advocate transgender issues. She further stated that retaining references to transpeople under such conditions was "potentially disrespectful."

However, it is worth noting the GLMA Board elected not to consult with transphysicians on whether in fact they perceived any lack of advocacy, on any potential disrespect in keeping the original mission statement intact, or on the more obvious potential for disrespect by removing them quietly and unilaterally, in absentia.

In addition, in a statement eerily reminiscent of recent "mainstreaming" by other national queer organizations, Dr. Ulstad questioned whether GLMA should expand its long-standing advocacy of "sexual preference" to also include "gender expression. "

Said Dr. Lawrence, "Unfortunately, the Board seems not to have understood that sexual preference and gender identity are often intertwined in ways that defy easy distinctions." She added, "Dr. Ulstad has assured me that the Board will reconsider this decision at its May meeting. I trust that the Board will reverse this regrettable misstep. Transgendered physicians are often an endangered species in the world of medicine. The visible support of queer organizations is critical in our struggle for acceptance in the wider medical community."

GLMA members, transgendered and otherwise, have already communicated their objections to Board members and the organization's Executive Director, Benjamin Schatz. Among those expressing concern was lesbian film-maker Dee Mosbacher, MD, producer of the award-winning documentary "Straight from the Heart."

In a gratuitous and completely fatuous remark, Transexual Menace spokestrans Riki Wilchins hotly declared, "We are shocked, shocked at this blatant display of phobia. While we can certainly sympathize with transphobia, especially national groups' desire to put the gendertrash out for the night, it is absolutely inexcusable that anyone would want to treat our wonderful neighbors to the north in this exceptionally thoughtless and cavalier manner. Canad-o-phobia must not go unchallenged."

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