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UCI School of Medicine Celebrates LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

Posted: 2024-06-18

Source: UCI School of Medicine
News Type: 

The Human Rights Campaign’s theme for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2024 is “We Show Up,” a testament to allyship and community building in the face of adversity, as well as a celebration of joy, resilience and beauty.

John Fryer
John Fryer, MD

One of the earliest watershed moments of “showing up” from the LGBTQIA+ medical community occurred in 1972, when John E. Fryer, MD, an openly gay psychiatrist, appeared in a disguise at the American Psychological Association (APA) annual meeting to denounce the inclusion of homosexuality as a mental illness in the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). Dr. Fryer spoke with a voice modifier and was addressed by the pseudonym “Dr. Henry Anonymous” out of fear of retaliation. One year after his speech, homosexuality was removed from the DSM, with Dr. Fryer’s speech cited as a key factor in persuading the APA to change its stance.

To commemorate LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2024, we commend and celebrate the members of our UCI School of Medicine community who have shown a steadfast commitment to showing up for their patients, their colleagues and their communities.

A large part of UCI Health’s commitment to LGBTQIA+ equity is exemplified through our Gender Diversity Program, Orange County’s only interdisciplinary program dedicated to caring for transgender and gender-expansive children, teens and adults. Under the leadership of Medical Director Ajanta Naidu, MD, (she/her) HS clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics, the Gender Diversity Program has expanded into an interdisciplinary transgender care program that provides comprehensive gender affirming care, sexual health education and HIV prevention, patient navigation, and training to medical professionals.

Ajanta Naidu, MD
Ajanta Naidu, MD

Dr. Naidu has been praised by her team for the time that she takes to form partnerships with other providers, specialties and departments to increase access to gender affirming care across the UCI Health system. According to Dr. Naidu, her passion for serving the LGBTQIA+ community is rooted not only in her 20+ year career, but foundational experiences from her youth.

“As a little girl, I had observed rampant inequality all around me,” explains Dr. Naidu. “The Hijira community (recognized now as the third gender in Hindu culture), although revered as God’s special people and welcomed at auspicious occasions to bless the newlyweds or the newborn, lived in the margins of the society without access to healthcare. I promised myself that I would try to obliterate inequality in healthcare within my little world.”

The Gender Diversity Program’s team consists of seven faculty and staff members who have collectively trained over 900 medical professionals in transgender healthcare practices, as well as created robust research and publications related to the health and wellbeing of the transgender population. Acknowledging the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of this work, Dr. Naidu also offers, “I thank the UCI School of Medicine, the stellar members of my team, our past and current administrative leadership and all other medical and surgical departments for collaborating with us to care for the LGBTQ+ community in Orange County and beyond.”

Kimberly Gimenez, MD
Kimberly Gimenez, MD

Another advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community who has shown up in the UCI community for decades is Kimberly Gimenez, MD, (she/her) HS clinical professor in the Department of Anesthesiology. Dr. Gimenez is an alumna of the UCI School of Medicine and also completed her residency in the UCI Department of Anesthesiology before assuming a faculty role. Her colleagues praise her as a cornerstone of the department who takes care of the most challenging cases while maintaining her passion for empowering LGBTQIA+ students.

Faculty in the Department of Anesthesiology have observed how Dr. Gimenez takes care of the most challenging patients and is often requested for the most complicated cases. Furthermore, she has made significant educational contributions as former Residency Program Director and recipient of the Department of Anesthesiology’s Teach Award and Heal Award for faculty. She has also served as the chair for UCI Health’s Wellbeing and Professionalism Committee for two decades.

Throughout her various roles and responsibilities, she has been lauded as a steadfast role model for all. In particular, she has served as a mentor to the LGBTQIA+ medical students and trainees, offering guidance and unwavering support through their personal and professional challenges. Many of her mentees maintain regular contact with her, often seeking her counsel. Reflecting on her role as a mentor, Dr. Gimenez says, “I feel strongly that everyone should feel safe and included at the table. If I can be just one role model to someone struggling, then I have done something worthwhile.”

Student organizations are often thought of as extracurricular involvements, but the eQuality student group has made tremendous achievements to transform the UCI School of Medicine curriculum and its broader culture to be more inclusive of LGBTQIA+ issues. The organization utilizes 10-15 subcommittees that promote LGBTQIA+ perspectives in multiple facets of our campus life.

Darian Thompson with eQuality logo
Darian Thompson, MS3

This year, the organization hosted an LGBTQIA+ health education series with 16 lectures on various topics related to queer wellness, such as how to take informed sexual histories, and a screening of the intersex-focused documentary Every Body. The series was planned by co-Vice Presidents of Education Darian Thompson, MS3, and Aileen Navarrete, MS3. Mr. Thompson is also the new co-president of eQuality for 2024-25, along with Mark Liang, MS3.  

“Being part of eQuality has only furthered my commitment to health equity and queer joy,” says Mr. Thompson. “The community fostered by eQuality has been internal to my wellbeing as a student for the past two years. Being able to collaborate, innovate, and advocate with other students and faculty of similar experiences, values, and identities is a necessary form of restoration.”

Other highlights of student-led initiatives from eQuality include 2024 Southern California LGBTQIA+ Health Conference (Thao Pham, MS1), an advocacy toolkit (Connor Ko, MS4), establishing a more inclusive curriculum (Shady Mikhail, MS4, and Ian Ramiro, MS4), and hosting events at local high schools (Ronak Intwala, MS4, and Arman Ghafari, MS3). Moving forward, eQuality’s aspirations and goals include the improvement of gender inclusive facilities across the UCI campus and the development of a PRIME program related to LGBTQIA+ health. 

LGBTQIA+ voices in academic medicine are more important now than ever as our field navigates new and emerging issues in research, clinical care, education and professional development. The School of Medicine’s tripartite mission to Discover. Teach. Heal. relates directly to the Pride Month theme of “We Show Up.” Our colleagues in the School of Medicine are tremendous examples of the myriad ways and venues that we can show up for one another. We hope that during Pride Month and all year round, we can follow their example.