From left: Susan Rapple, Steven Thompson, Alexi Wright and Yiannis Koullias

On April 24, LGBT leaders at BWH participated in a discussion, “Out at Brigham: LGBT+ Careers Panel,” where they shared personal reflections, practical advice and warm encouragement to early-career staff who identify as LGBT+ (an inclusive term to represent the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identities). 

The four panelists spoke candidly about a wide range of topics, including how they handle moments when they need to disclose their sexuality to others, both in personal and professional settings, and the importance of advocating for LGBT+ equality in the workplace.

“One of the great things about the Brigham is its commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Jonah Tanguay-Colucci, a patient care assistant and member of the Brigham Health LGBT & Allies Employee Resource Group (ERG), before introducing the panelists. “This is best exemplified by members of the LGBT+ community who are on staff here at all levels across Brigham Health.”

Hosted by the LGBT & Allies ERG, the event also celebrated BWH and BWFH being named Leaders in LGBTQ HealthCare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for 10 years.

Throughout the discussion, speakers noted that while there is more work to be done, they were proud to work at an institution at the forefront of inclusion. 

“While we have this panel discussion, I wonder if anyone is having a similar panel discussion across Boston,” said panelist Susan Rapple, EdM, senior vice president and chief development officer, who credited her colleagues for their unwavering dedication to cultivating a welcoming environment at the Brigham for all patients, families and staff. 

‘It’s a Part of Who We Are’

As panelists reflected on moments when they needed to disclose their sexuality, Alexi Wright, MD, MPH, a medical gynecologic oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who also cares for patients at BWH, discussed the challenges of navigating such conversations. She looked back on how she and her wife, Ingrid Katz, MD, MHS, of the Division of Women’s Health, handled interviews for residency programs when they applied as a couple in 2003.

“Everywhere we interviewed, except at BWH and the University of California, San Francisco, people asked, ‘What does your husband do for work?’ I had to repeatedly come out as gay on the interview trail,” Wright said. “One of the nice things about matching as a couple at the Brigham was that everyone knew we were together, and it was just a part of who we were and are today.”

When caring for her patients, Wright said sometimes it can be difficult to determine how much personal information she’s comfortable disclosing when asked.

“Patients sometimes ask me what my husband does, and I have to make a conscious decision in the room about whether I want to talk about my wife,” she said. “I feel this double tension a lot of the time because a patient’s visit with me is about them and their health, and I want my patients to be as comfortable as possible. But, at the same time, I don’t want to be inauthentic to myself or my relationship.”

Coming out as gay hasn’t always been an easy task for Internal Medicine resident Yiannis Koullias, MD, explaining that he’s experienced harassment and discrimination related to his sexuality. But he added that it hasn’t stopped him from expressing who he is as a person and physician. Koullias also underscored the importance of having people at all levels, including hospital leadership, be vocal advocates of inclusivity and diversity and denounce discrimination.

In addition to personal experiences, panelists shared ideas for strengthening LGBT+ inclusion at BWH. In one example, Wright proposed a mentorship program for senior staff mentors and LGBT+ trainees. 

Steven Thompson, MBA, senior vice president and chief business development officer, also said he hopes to advocate more for LGBT+ equality in the workplace. As an openly gay member of the senior leadership team, he feels a personal responsibility to inspire his colleagues to learn more about the great work of the LGBT ERG. “Coming out still matters,” he said.