Veterinary medicine has a reputation for being one of the least diverse professions, which is problematic for a variety of reasons. Not only are we not able to relate to the diverse community of people that are our clients, we also risk excluding diverse individuals from our profession because looking at our profession makes them feel like they don’t belong.
It will take all of us working together to actively educate ourselves on how to be better allies to underrepresented communities. So, how can we be more welcoming to underrepresented communities on both the individual and organizational level?
June is Pride month, and the LGBTQ+ community has been at the forefront of my mind. Our veterinary community is at its strongest when all members feel seen, supported, and accepted. Including equity and inclusion into our daily life as veterinary professionals is something that grows more and more important to achieving that goal.
Read below for some ideas on how your practice or you as an individual can be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community!
How to be an ally as a veterinary clinic:
Consider a visible indication of LGBTQ+ inclusiveness on your practice door, windows, or in your reception area.
Let people who visit your clinic know as soon as they arrive that they are entering an inclusive environment. There are a wide variety of rainbow stickers, signs, flags, etc. out there to choose from. This store from True Colors United is just one example of how you can display your support from the moment people walk through your door.
Ensure that the artwork and pictures on the walls, social media and website content, reception area reading materials, and hardcopy promotional materials for your clinic represent a diverse background of people.
When you take a look around your reception area, your exam rooms, your website, and your social media pages, what do you see? Are the photos displayed representative of all of the types of people that can be found in your community? Are same-sex families displayed?
Make sure client intake forms are inclusive
While there is much more to think about when it comes to creating inclusive client intake forms on the human medicine side of things, it does not mean that we do not have to think about how we word our intake paperwork in veterinary medicine. Instead of just having a space to list a “spouse”, you could also consider adding domestic partner or significant other. Check out this resource for more information about creating inclusive client intake forms. (Mainly related to human medicine, but helpful nonetheless!)
Offer DEI training for staff members at your practice
Thanks to some brilliant minds in our profession, there are now several resources available to further educate yourself about DEI in veterinary medicine. AVMA’s Brave Space Certificate is free for AVMA members, and Purdue University has a Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine Certificate Program available. Offering staff training ensures that everyone is educated about the issues related to underrepresented communities and gives people the knowledge and opportunity to create a safe working environment.
Include anti-harassment and non-discrimination clauses on your job postings, on your website, posted in your reception area and/or exam rooms, etc.
From your job postings on various job boards, to a statement on your social media pages and/or website, to a physical posting on the walls of your clinic, an anti-harassment and non-discrimination clause/statement goes a long way. Let others know that you do not tolerate discriminatory behavior of any kind and that you are committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive environment.
Label single-stall bathrooms as gender-neutral
Have a single bathroom that has a “Men” or “Women” sign posted outside? Consider changing the signage to “Gender Neutral Restroom”. Not only does this eliminate confusion about why single stall bathrooms are designated for a specific gender, but it also lets those who may not conform to a specific gender feel included.
How to be an ally as an individual
Be proactive with your pronoun use
The use of personal pronouns through things like email signatures, name tags, and stethoscope clips is a great way to establish yourself as a safe individual to the LGBTQ+ community, and helps create an inclusive culture.
Consider donating money, time, or service to an LGBTQ group, community, or event
Want to show your support for the LGBTQ+ community? Consider donating to an organization that supports LGBTQ+ rights, donate your time at an event, or become a member of an organization. PrideVMC has a full events calendar for you to get started.
Speak up when you see or hear discriminatory behavior
Part of being an ally means that you actively work to creative an inclusive environment, and stand up to any hurtful or discriminatory comments you may hear. Hurtful comments are not always overtly discriminatory; sometimes they come off a bit more subtle. These are called microaggressions. Educating yourself about common microaggressions the LGBTQ+ community experiences and how to respond when they happen makes you a valuable ally when you hear these types of comments being made in your workplace.
Educate yourself on LGBTQ+ terminology, history, and current events
Part of being an ally means educating yourself about the details, terminology, and history of the community you are trying to support. Allyship is about taking personal responsibility for learning about these topics, and the good news is there is no shortage of resources out there for you to learn from! A quick Google search will provide you with a large list of books, movies, articles, and other resources for you to learn more. (Consider a book/journal club with your staff!)
Use your privilege to amplify LGBTQ+ voices
Have a social media platform, or some other sort of community or virtual presence? Be sure to use your platform to share (and celebrate!) stories, resources, and voices from the LGBTQ+ community.
Display a placard/pin/sticker in your office, on your water bottle, or on your locker that identifies you as an ally
Whether it is a pin on your white coat, a sticker on your water bottle, a stethoscope charm or clip, or a magnet on your locker, it’s easy to show your support for the LGBTQ+ community and identify yourself as a safe space.
Add your signature to the Gender Identity Bill of Rights
Pride VMC has put together the Gender Identify Bill of Rights as a minimum foundation to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices against transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals in the veterinary profession. Your signature to this bill as either a practice or an individual shows support for their mission.
Commit to learning, growing, and very possibly making mistakes as your navigate your role as an ally!
At the end of the day, learning to be an ally for underrepresented communities takes effort, but it also takes vulnerability. Sometimes you might get it wrong, and that’s OK! It’s all part of the learning.
Now, let’s go out and create a more inclusive Vet Med!