News - July 1996

Protests force trans-reinstatement at GLMA

In response to an outpouring of community outrage the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association has reinstated "transgender" in its letterhead and literature.

GLMA, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious organizations for queer physicians, had begun officially welcoming transphysicians as members in 1994 by describing itself as "a U.S. and Canadian organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered physicians, medical students, and their supporters."

But in an unpublicized and unannounced move during its February 16 meeting in Washington, DC, GLMA Board members voted to strike "transgendered." GLMA President Valerie Ulstad, MD later explained the decision to remove transpeople grew from the Board's conviction that GLMA should better define its mission. In a statement eerily reminiscent of recent "mainstreaming" by other national queer organizations, she questioned whether GLMA should expand its long-standing advocacy of "sexual preference" to also include "gender expression. "

Neither GLMA transmembers, nor its general membership, were consulted or informed on the board's actions, learning of it almost 2 months later when a disgruntled Board member leaked word to transexual physician Joy Shaffer, MD, a San Jose internist and GLMA founding member since 1981. Dr. Shaffer then helped organize a community-wide response, which culminated in a demonstration outside a medical group reception in San Francisco.

About 40 people showed up, including Bay Area members of the Transexual Menace, while GLMA board members ate and drank at a reception inside. Demonstrators on the street chanted, "Hey doctors/Get a clue/Some of us/Are some of you!" and "We've got pride/and we won't hide!" Some carried signs saying, "Keep ALL the Stripes in the Rainbow," and "We Are Family."

Ben Shatz, Executive Director of GLMA, candidly admitted to the Bay Area Reporter in a May 20 interview that the board was naive in how its decision to remove "transgendered" from literature would be perceived. "Transgender members are an important part of the group, and the irony is that w'er trying so hard to define ourselves clearly." However he added, "The transgender movement is very closely tied to the gay/lesbian movement, but is not necessarily identical," noting that the GLMA's focus is still on gay and lesbian concerns.

Remarked Dr. Shaffer, "The entire process was a learning experience for all involved. The protest was definitely effective." She remained wary of claiming complete victory, however, noting that the board's reinstatement vote was not unanimous.

©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.