The Rainbow White Coat in Burlington’s Pride Parade

uvmmedicine blogger Eli Goldberg '20
uvmmedicine blogger Eli Goldberg ’20

In most places, Pride season is June, but – in this, as in so many other things – Vermont is a little different. We celebrate Pride on a crisp September Sunday, classic late summer on the brink of fall. I’ve watched the parade several times, but marched it in only once, as a senior in high school who had just barely come out. This year, a decade later, I was elated to be marching with the Larner College of Medicine as a first-year medical student.

The day started out gray and cool, but by noon the sun was high. I was sweating as our group, which included faculty, students from all four years, and family (our youngest marcher was 11 weeks old!), gathered at the parade start site. The dress code was white coat, and because first-years haven’t received ours yet, we were honored with loaners that were full-length, not the short white coats given to medical students. I pulled mine on over my “Trans Visibility” t-shirt, hoping that the words would still be readable.

Pride in Vermont is not the epic production that you might find in a big city, but more of a low-key community celebration. Picture an entire parade milling around in a parking lot, chatting with neighbors and idly waiting for the sign to start. Imagine youth, elders, toddlers in strollers, dogs on leashes, drummers and a marching band. Imagine every possible hair color (and some that seemed impossible), some folks in elaborately-styled drag, others in jeans and t-shirts. Next to the Pride Center and Outright Vermont were crews from colleges from across the state, political campaigns, churches and synagogues, supermarkets and banks. It’s like a small-town Fourth of July parade made fabulous.

Compared to the boisterous University of Vermont undergrads next to us, the med school contingent was a little more muted. But the mood was festive as we divided bags of fresh apples to hand out along the parade route. Small pots of body glitter were passed around and applied liberally. (There were still a few flecks of gold glitter in my beard days later, when I showed up to my first clinical skills exam.) Then – carrying a UVM Medical Center banner and a rainbow flag – we took our place in the stream of marchers that would wind through downtown Burlington.

As we walked, I found myself wondering what it meant to the people on the sidewalk to see us in our white coats. Probably some people were cheering because they respect doctors, or because they received life-changing care at UVM Medical Center – the same reason you might cheer to see white coats in any parade. But for others, the symbolism must have run deeper.

Larner College of Medicine students in the 2016 Burlington Pride Parade.
Larner College of Medicine students in the 2016 Burlington Pride Parade.

I can only imagine what we looked like to someone raised in a time and place where coming out would destroy a medical career; to someone who avoids healthcare after past experiences of discrimination; to a queer patient who has never seen a doctor who is “family.” I had worked in healthcare for several years, and had already been accepted to medical school, before first meeting a doctor who was out. Although I knew that there were queer doctors, that encounter still felt like a small revolution. I hope our contingent of white coats was a small revolution for someone watching the parade.

As we walked past a contingent from a local trans group, someone leaned toward me, nodded at the “Trans Visibility” shirt under my white coat, and said, “I love your shirt!” Hours after the parade, as I was leaving the Pride festival, our paths crossed again and she looked me in the eye: “I just wanted to say again, I really loved your shirt with that coat.” It is a very nice color, but somehow, I don’t think that’s what she loved about it.

What did it mean to me to walk in the parade as a medical student? Those of us who are LGBTQ doctors and doctors-to-be have had our own experiences of stigma as patients, and have also witnessed the perpetuation of stigma by our colleagues as we work and study. Many of us have felt implicit or explicit pressure to hide who we are in order to succeed in medicine. I was told that if I wrote about being transgender on my medical school applications, no school would accept me. Obviously that wasn’t true, and I was able to choose a school where LGBTQ students were welcomed and warmly supported. Still, I struggle with the inherent vulnerability and risk of being out.

Given all of that, it was particularly meaningful that I wore a white coat for the first time in the Pride parade. When I put it on, my queerness did not disappear. Instead, I discovered that my personal and professional identities complement each other beautifully. It was a delight to take my place in my community as a trans future doctor.

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