Thirty years ago this coming September I moved to Texas and with the exception of a fifteen-month stint in Scottsdale, Arizona I have lived here ever since. I’ve experienced many major life milestones while living in Dallas. My son attended grades two through ten here, my marriage of thirteen years to my former wife disintegrated and I came out of the closet twenty-five years ago. I became a gay activist, writer and podcaster all of which were new to me. In December 2001, just three months after the horrors of 9/11, I met my amazing husband.
Texas – The Reddest of the Red States
With all of the many good memories that have enriched my life these thirty years I have never been able to overcome my frustration felt by being a liberal living in the reddest of red states. Six years after I arrived Ann Richards became Governor of Texas, not because Texas had taken a swerve to the left but because her opponent ran such a disastrous campaign; even many conservatives couldn’t stomach pulling the lever for Clayton Williams. Four years later Governor Richards ran a reelection campaign while dealing with the grief of her mother’s recent passing. George W. Bush defeated her and ever since the Texas State Government has veered further to the right with the two Governors who succeeded Bush being even more conservative and archaic than Bush. With Bush being as abysmal and inept as he was, being worse tan him hasn’t been easy.
Even In Texas LGBT Rights Advance
In spite of the ultra-conservative and deeply fundamentalist-Christian domination of Texas politics there have been advances in LGBT civil rights even in Texas. In May of 2001, Governor Rick Perry signed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which included gays. While serving as Governor, George W. Bush had refused to support the bill two years earlier.
Non-discrimination laws adding LGBT people have been enacted in many of the large cities throughout the state along with the addition of domestic partnership benefits for city employees. With the exception of the Mayor of Dallas, large city mayors throughout the state of Texas have joined with more than 500 mayors across the country by publicly supporting same-sex marriage. Dallas has a lesbian sheriff and Houston a d lesbian mayor. Despite having highly conservative state officeholders, public opinion has swayed to become much more accepting of LGBT Texans including support for same-sex marriage.
Still, it isn’t easy being gay and living in Texas where the state government continuously works against the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people while mega-churches spew hate against us from their pulpits and in the media. Such attacks become frustrating, depressing and at times overwhelming. Sometimes I ask myself why we haven’t moved to a blue state where Rodolfo and I would receive much more support. Fortunately, the large cities in Texas including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Ft. Worth and, of course, Austin are all supportive. Still, the voters from the suburbs and rural parts of the state control who makes it into state government. At times I have to admit that I feel like throwing in the towel. I get tired of fighting and just want to live in peace and not have to deal with the Republican and fundamentalist Christian hate in this state that dominates everything from school textbook selection, appointments and legislation. But then something amazing happens.
Invitation To Be Keynote Speaker at 2015 Out For Health Summit
Several weeks ago I was the keynote speaker at the 2015 Out for Health LGBTQ & Ally Healthcare Summit. Hosted by the LGBT Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston the summit put on for the Texas Association for GLBTQ Health (TAGH) had over one hundred thirty attendees from nine medical healthcare campuses across the state of Texas. In addition to the hosting University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, other University of Texas medical campuses participated including University of Texas Health Science at San Antonio, University of North Texas Science Center (Denton), University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas) and University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston along with Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Science Center at Lubbock, Texas Tech University Health Science Center at El Paso and the Texas A&M Health Science Center.
The majority of participants at the summit were LGBT medical school students but there were also over forty professionals from fields including nursing, law, pharmacy, PhDs, dentistry, public health, physicians assistants and advocates in attendance as well. Several of the attendees were straight allies.
Dr. Gus Krucke
I had received a phone call two weeks prior to the summit, which was held on Saturday February 7th. The call was from my dear friend of over 15 years Dr. Gus Krucke, whom besides being double board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine is an Assistant Professor in General Internal Medicine. During his free time (not that he has any) Dr. Krucke serves as the volunteer Medical Director of the Bering Omega AIDS Hospice. Recently Gus also agreed to take on the role of faculty advisor to The University of Texas Medical School at Houston Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Gus, who was my best man when Rodolfo and I married in Canada nearly 11 years ago, is a world-class physician. In 2010 Gus was awarded the Leonard Tow Humanitarian in Medicine Award. This prestigious award honors faculty who are exemplary in their compassion and sensitivity in the delivery of care to patients and their families, who administer scientifically excellent clinical care and who serve as role models for medical students.
There isn’t another physician in the United States with Dr. Gus Krucke’s unique skill set. In the recommended links section at the bottom of this post you will want to check out the article I wrote about Gus for A&U Magazine and a John Selig Outspoken podcast episode featuring a conversation I had with Gus. At the end of the podcast Gus reads a tearjerker of a letter he wrote to a patient of his after the patient had died. Gus read the letter as part of his presentation at the Out for Health Conference and he read it at the ceremony where he received the Leonard Tow Humanitarian in Medicine Award in 2010. Be forewarned, you will want to have a tissue on hand as it is impossible to listen to Dr. Gus Krucke read this letter without crying. Gus is as good a writer and presenter as he is a physician.
Dr. Gus Krucke has dedicated his practice of medicine to the care indigent patients living with HIV/AIDS at the Thomas Street Clinic. Besides seeing patients for regular visits to the clinic he also provides urgent care needs rather than having patients wait for hours and cost tax payers more at local emergency rooms. He is able to treat very sick patients in his Treatment Room. Dr. Krucke deals with patient needs beyond just treating their medical issues through his ability to be compassionate and show empathy. He is concerned with their emotional health and family/friend support structure as well.
I spent a day with Gus at his Thomas Street Clinic office years ago when I wrote the A&U article on him referenced above. Dr. Krucke is loved by his patients and is one of the favorite doctors for medical students when they are on rotation. I also got to go on rounds with Gus and several residents in the hospital. Gus is one of the most loving, caring human beings I have ever known. He is also exacting in the quality of treatment that he expects for his patients and Katy bar the door for anybody who doesn’t follow through with exceptional treatment.
Not only is Gus one of my closest friends, he is a personal hero of mine. Aside from his outstanding accomplishments as a physician and a teacher Gus has been a pioneer in advancing understanding of LGBT people by being out to other physicians, nursing staff, administrators, medical students, patients and their families. Gus is deeply admired not only for his medical skills but also for his human skills and for being the gay role model that he is. His compassion, laced with his keen wit has touched thousands of people. Such an impact opens minds, changes opinions and makes people realize that gay people are important members of society who deserve the same human rights as all other Americans.
Gus called in Mid-January and he explained that the GSA at his medical school would be hosting a summit where the Mayor of Houston had agreed to be the keynote speaker. However, she cancelled when a schedule conflict arose and he asked if I could come to Houston for the summit and be their keynote speaker. I immediately replied yes and told him that it would be an honor to do so. Gus then handed the phone over to one of the two 4th-year medical students who were in charge of the summit. Let’s face it, when my friend Gus Krucke asks for my help, if there is any way humanly possible for me to do so, I will drop what I am doing and be there for him.
2015 Out For Health Summit
I was requested to put together a presentation that shared suggestions on how medical professionals could be advocates/activists in their own lives and practices. Putting the presentation together and delivering it was a joy for me. My presentation was the first one on the agenda of a very full day. I shared my own story of coming out at the age of thirty-seven and being shocked at the amount of prejudice and hate faced by gay people. I was and remain especially concerned by the challenges faced by gay youth. I gave those attending the summit a resource list of LGBT organizations that would provide them with a good start and encouraged them to add other organizations to their own lists and also add LGBT friendly healthcare providers whom they could refer patients and families. I wrote my blog post titled “The 30-Minute LGBT Activist,” which I published on February 4th, to serve as the backbone of my presentation. It included the resources that I shared at the summit.
Once my presentation concluded I was able to spend the rest of the day observing the other presentations on a variety of topics involving healthcare and LGBT patients delivered by a cadre of impassioned experts in their fields including Dr. Krucke’s presentation on aging issues. Gus’s presentation even featured brief appearances of a tiara and a magic wand punctuated with two snaps and a twirl followed by a room filled with grins and laughter. What an outstanding day it was! Presentation covered a variety of topics including:
- Child & Adolescent Mental Health in the LGBTQ Community
- LGBT & HIV Healthcare Law
- HIV/AIDS Stigma in The Medical Community and Public
- PrEP: HIV Prophylaxis (the use of prescription drugs by people who do not have HIV/AIDS as a strategy for prevention)
- Transgender Sexual & Reproductive Health
- Caring for an Aging LGBT and HIV+ Community
In addition, a lively panel discussion was held with many questions and comments from those attending the conference about applying for residency programs as openly LGBT physicians. Surprisingly, it appeared that being openly gay wasn’t a problem for residents at hospitals around the country and yes, even not a problem here in Texas.
I learned a great deal at the 2015 Out for Health LGBTQ & Ally Healthcare Summit about healthcare in general, needs and services for LGBT patients and about the confidence and commitment of the next generation of LGBT healthcare professionals being the best they can be while at the same time being openly gay. Special kudos are deserved by Dustin Staloch and Will Tyson who are the two 4th year UTHealth Medical School students who did an outstanding job organizing and running the 2015 Out for Health Summit.
Hope For The Future – Even In Texas
In 2015 it is okay to practice medicine as on openly gay physician or other healthcare professionals in Texas. Transgender issues still remain but much progress is being made. Texas may be the reddest of the red states but even here something that couldn’t be imaginable even a decade or two ago is now possible. Our opponents are vocal in government, from their pulpits and in the media. However, we are winning the battle for LGBT civil rights even in the Lone Star State. We cannot afford to become complacent and there is still much work to be done. But we are going to win this battle, even here in Texas!
Update – On Friday March 6, 2014, just two days after this post was published, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings joined 225 other U.S. mayors as part of an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court of The United States to strike down laws in states that make same-sex marriages illegal. The Supreme Court hears arguments on this issue on April 28th. Until now Mayor Rawlins had been unwilling to take an official step in support of same-sex marriage until his joining other mayor as part of the amicus brief. Other Texas mayors participating included: Houston, along with three small cities – Shaven Park, Valley Mills and Socorro (Near San Antonio, Waco and El Paso, respectively. This is just another example of how Texas is evolving on LGBT issues.
Recommended Links –
Texas Association for GLBTQ Health (TAGH) – supports current and future clinicians in providing GLBTQ patients with equitable healthcare – link also provides additional information about and photos from the 2015 Out for Health Summit
A&U Article on Dr. Gus Krucke – “Body, Mind & Soul,” February 2004
Podcast with Dr. Gus Krucke – John Selig Outspoken – Episode 58 – February 21, 2009
The University of Texas Medical School at Houston – With nearly 1,000 medical students and a similar number of residents and fellows, UTHealth Medical School is one of the largest and most diverse medical schools in the country
Thomas Street Health Center – a freestanding HIV/AIDS clinic, which provides medical care and psychological and social services to those who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS
Bering Omega Community Services – in 1986 a retired 76-year-old Montessori school teacher, Eleanor Munger, founded Omega House, a residential hospice, to provide a safe and caring environment for people living through the final stages of HIV/AIDS