Google, Can Doctors Be Gay?

On August 4, 2020, University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine Class of 2022 medical student Patrick Clarke posted a tweet on his Twitter profile@PatrickClarke_. He wrote “ok so apparently we left fear in July? because I am wearing my @UVMLarnerMed med Pride pin for the first time ever and we’re feelin it”

The tweet was accompanied by two photos of Clarke – one, a selfie he took of his reflection in a mirror – dressed in his white coat and business attire with a stethoscope around his neck, and the other, a close up of his white coat with the Pride pin he refers to clipped to his lapel. The tweet has since garnered 21 comments, 12 retweets, and 702 likes. 

This is the story of his journey to that day and what he’s learned since then.

“Can doctors be gay?” I typed the question into the Google search bar, I held my breath, and clicked search.

It was 2009 and I was sitting at home in small town Connecticut. I knew exactly zero queer people, had no social connections to any doctors in or out of my family, and could never conceive of the next steps to becoming a doctor, let alone a gay one.

The Google results were disheartening to say the least.

Most of what I found was a slew of homophobia imbibed in incorrect notions of the AIDS epidemic, and how gay doctors could possibly spread the infection to their patients. I quickly and swiftly gave up the idea of becoming a doctor and promised myself I would never come out.

Fast forward to August 2019.

I was entering my second year in medical school and received an email from Dr. Eileen CichoskiKelly, asking if I wanted to be in a mentorship program specifically designed for underrepresented in medicine (URiM) minority and LGBTQ+ students. The aim of the project was to pair me up with a gay attending physician who could help mentor me through medical school and the residency application process. I remember cynically saying to my partner “yeah I’ll sign up for the program, if there are any gay doctors.” Deep within me I still carried the notion that the identities “gay” and “medical doctor” were mutually exclusive. The homophobia that I had experienced growing up (and still sometimes do) had really, deeply affected me and continued to affect me.

As luck would have it, I was paired with Dr. Emmett Whitaker, a pediatric anesthesiologist and a gay attending who has been married to his husband, Andrew, for several years now. I couldn’t believe it. A gay doctor?! Who had heard of such a thing?! Many people, apparently.

The following year my friend texted me a link to a Twitter account run by a gay doctor in Maine. I thought “Hey, this seems cool,” having no idea what I was getting myself into. I signed up for Twitter and loudly and proudly put the pride flag in my bio. It is funny how folks are often more apt to be themselves on the internet, in front of strangers, but are still afraid of who they are in their own community.

I had been on Twitter for a few months by the time I started my first clinical outpatient rotation, meaning that I would frequently wear my white coat to meet with patients and colleagues. I had seen many people wear various types of pins on their white coats, so one day with the encouragement of my partner and seeing random strangers on the internet wearing Pride pins, I decided to put mine on my white coat.

I was ready to publicly be who I am.

Then, I took another brave step forward.

Screencapture of Patrick Clarke's tweet from August 4, 2020. Tweet reads "ok so apparently we left fear in July? because i am wearing my @UVMLarnerMed med Pride pin for the first time ever aaaaand we're feeling it." A smiley face emjoi and pride flag emoji accompany text. Two photos with the tweet show Clarke taking a selfie of himself in a mirror and a close up of his white coat with the Pride pin pinned to the lapel and a stethoscope around his neck.

I captured a “selfie” wearing my Pride-pinned white coat and posted it to my Twitter account. Now, there was no turning back. Over the course of the day, the next day, and the following week, the post garnered an incredible amount of support. Comments, likes, and retweets flooded in. Even now, over a year later, I continue to hear words of support and encouragement from the Twitter-verse about my decision to wear my Pride pin. Every few days I’ll get a notification about a like or a retweet – reminders about the kindness of strangers and how many supporters I truly have in my community.

Many straight allies reading this might think, “What’s the big deal? Who cares?” But for a kid who grew up in a small religious community, never having any gay role models, doctor role models, or any combination of the two, it is a big deal to be publicly vocal about who I am.

When I came to medical school, I had one overarching goal in mind, and that was to be the mentor, role model, and big sibling I needed for myself when I was younger. It’s been a ton of work and a truly grueling uphill battle, but throughout my time at the UVM Larner College of Medicine, I can say with 100 percent certainty that I have worked towards becoming that person I needed so desperately when I was younger.

I am filled with pride – for being gay, for being in medical school, and for being fully and completely myself when I was taught not to for so long.

Hopefully that is what those who stumble upon my tweet feel too – pride for themselves, for being fully and completely who they are, and hope in knowing they are not alone.

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