The Doctor is Out

GLBT medical professionals heading to D.C. for GLMA conference

by Will O'Bryan
Published on October 1, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

Just when it might seem that adding one more component in any way related to health care might lead the District to some kind of debate-density tipping point, the doctors are coming. But before you conjure notions of tea-party tax activists with stethoscopes or "Code Pink" practitioners with boas and tongue depressors, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. The Gay & Lesbian Medical Association is not coming to town to fight.

There will not be blood -- though blood may be discussed. And there will be a gala.

The GLMA holds its 27th annual conference from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at the Westin City Center, bringing hundreds of health professionals and students to the nation's capital. Among them is Dr. Rebecca Allison -- "Dr. Becky," as she's known informally -- who will be named GLMA president during the conference. Notably, Allison will be the 28-year-old organization's first transgender president.

''I've been a board member since 2004, serving on the education committee, participating in a lot of board activities, [and] in 2007, they asked me if I'd serve as president-elect," says Allison, a Phoenix-based cardiologist. "While I didn't have this as an initial goal, I've embraced it.''

While the conference is not a debate, Dr. Edwin M. Craft, chair of the conference's D.C. host committee has noted in GLMA materials, "D.C. welcomes GLMA at this incredible time of health care debate. This year's conference offers attendees the opportunity to explore how these reforms might affect the way that health care is delivered to LGBT people."

It may be some comfort to that same GLBT demographic that incoming President Allison is not offering any pat answers. Instead, she seems as cautious as most.

"You know, I'm apprehensive," she says. "I don't know what's going to happen. As a physician in practice, I recognize very much the problems people have when uninsured or under-insured. … I wish I had an answer. Clearly we're spending too much on health care, and we're not the healthiest nation in the world – far from it.''

In exploring those questions and more, GLMA members will be joined by some high-profile figures, both form the health care sphere and otherwise. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) will join the group, as will Jeff Crowley, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic and now with the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition.

''The keynote speaker this year is Bishop Gene Robinson," Allison adds, mentioning the openly gay Episcopal bishop from New Hampshire as a speaker to whom she's especially looking forward to hearing. "He's speaking about why religion matters in our struggle for equal rights.''

Although the convention is a professional conclave, rather than a mixer with the general public, Allison encourages all GLBT people to learn more about her organization, whose Web site offers plenty of information for patients as well as providers.

''I would love for people to be aware of GLMA," she says. "We hope people will become more active in our organization.''

For more information about the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, call 415-255-4547 or visit www.glma.org.