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Nonbinary physician fights COVID-19 without legal protections

LGBTQ healthcare workers are stepping up, saving lives

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LGBTQ physicians, nonbinary medical professionals, gay news, Washington Blade
Dr. Ly Pham is a queer nonbinary doctor working in Louisiana without legal protections. (Photo courtesy Pham)

Dr. Scott Nass and Dr. Ly Pham are LGBTQ physicians on the front lines of the pandemic fight, but only one is protected from workplace discrimination. While Nass is fortunate to be a gay cisgender man practicing in California, Pham is a queer nonbinary doctor working in Louisiana without legal protections.

“Shreveport is a level one trauma center similar to Baltimore,” said Pham who uses singular they pronouns. “The hospital was fairly busy before COVID [but the pandemic] added another layer of stress and anxiety.”

Adding to Pham’s stress is the feeling that LGBTQ people are tolerated but not fully accepted into the larger Shreveport community. While HRC reports both Shreveport and New Orleans ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Louisiana has had a tumultuous history with attempts to mandate a statewide ban.

“I get misgendered all the time,” Pham said before describing a usual day when they arrive at the hospital around 8 a.m. “Mostly by patients coming in and some coworkers. But I’m here to treat the patients and not educate them because they’re in a crisis right now and need to be treated and admitted to the hospital.”

Pham says they allow their patients to interact with them in a way that is emotionally damaging because they feel harms need to be triaged during a crisis. Louisiana governors have sought remedies to this preventable situation.

However, in 2018 the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) executive order protecting LGBTQ state employees and contractors from workplace discrimination, according to a report by The Advocate.

The resulting tally from Freedom for All Americans shows Louisiana is one of 28 states where an LGBTQ worker, including essential medical personnel during a global health crisis, can legally be fired or face other negative action on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The case of healthcare workers helps illustrate why it is in everyone’s interest that people are able to work regardless of factors that have nothing to do with their ability to do the job,” said Jon Davidson, Freedom for All Americans Chief Counsel. He is also an LGBTQ attorney who attended the Supreme Court arguments on this issue. “I hope the court sees this is not just important to the employees affected, but for society as a whole.”

But not every state will be equally impacted by the ruling.

Davidson explains a Supreme Court ruling on the Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express v. Zarda and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC cases determining if Title VII protections “on the basis of sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity won’t affect the 22 states that already have LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.

In April, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law the Virginia Values Act, expanding nondiscrimination protections in his state to include sexual orientation and gender identity and making it the first state in the South with such inclusions.

“We need every healthcare worker possible saving lives,” Davidson emphasized. “So having protections is both important to keep qualified people in their jobs and it is also important that LGBTQ workers not be worried about who might learn they are LGBTQ. If you have to hide your partner [or who you are] because you’re afraid your employer might find out and you might be fired, that’s unacceptable.”

He added it was “just outrageous and cruel” for healthcare workers to endure such uncertainty during a crisis.

HRC, the Movement Advancement Project and other national policy trackers have noted California, where Dr. Nass encountered the initial waves of the deadly virus, has passed a series of increasingly inclusive statewide measures over the years. Their legislative efforts culminated in the recent Gender Nondiscrimination Act in 2011.

As a result, though Nass also finds the pressures of the pandemic to be “incredibly stressful,” he has not faced the added stress of having to conceal his orientation.

“When I’m not working, I am sheltering in place at home with my husband,” Nass said. “A police officer in Los Angeles who is also on the front lines of the pandemic.”

While their lives are at risk, their jobs and identities are not. However, the situation is very different outside of California.

Pham currently shelters-in-place with their fiancee, who uses both female and nonbinary pronouns and identifies as queer in orientation. The couple bought a two-person hammock so they can lie together under the trees and daydream about a future when they can travel. They are also planning their wedding and an eventual move to Los Angeles.

“It’s spring,” Pham said. “And we are appreciating nature and the flowers blooming and a time to slow down.”

But the rest period doesn’t last long for the physician who graduated in the midst of a global crisis. Pham has been out as an LGBTQ person since attending medical school at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Although Texas is another state without LGBTQ-inclusive workplace protections, Pham was able to find mentors who helped them through their personal journey from self-described butch lesbian to nonbinary as well as through their professional journey from student to physician.

Pham details the rest of their current daily routine with almost machine-like precision.

“I park in a parking lot that is gated using my badge,” Pham said. “There I put on my surgical mask that I have in my car. Parking is in the back of the hospital. I walk to the front. There is only one entrance to the hospital. I try to keep six feet from anyone else and I try to see if anyone else is walking toward the entrance.”

“Everyone feels a little more distant than usual,” agrees Nass in less constrained cadence when discussing his own routine, which begins at 6:30 a.m. “And I’ve worked on speaking more with my eyes now that no one can see me smile under the constant masks.”

Pham is a little more reserved beneath their mask as workplace interactions usually lead to misgendering without reasonable recourse, especially during the crisis.

They arrive at a screening station where they answer a hospital worker’s questions and get their temperature checked. When they pass the checkpoint, they get a sticker on their badge.

“Different colors for different days,” Pham explains. “Before I even get to my office, I usually swing by the ground floor and pick up my N95 mask and face shield, if I’m seeing COVID patients.”

But Pham admits it’s hard to know which patients are COVID positive, so they wear an N95 mask whenever they see patients. They also wipe down their keyboard, desk, chair, mouse, phone — everything in their work area.

Nass may be fortunate when it comes to workplace protections, but his personal equipment seems a little less protective than Pham’s, who works in a larger hospital and more closely with COVID patients.

“I stop at the front desk of the hospital to get an ear-loop mask,” Nass explains. “Not the most protective kind, but those are kept even more securely in particular patient areas.”

Nass notes “on administrative days” he doesn’t usually see much of anyone as access into the office space has been limited to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“I am not assigned to take care of confirmed COVID-19 patients in one of the two units we’ve designated for that,” he said. “But we have started to treat every patient, and each other, as though we may be carrying the virus.”

And this may be sound advice, though reminiscent of the early stages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In March, when PPE distributions were no match for the steady influx of patients in New York City, Kious Kelly, a gay nurse working at Mount Sinai hospital, contracted COVID-19 and died from it.

Kelly’s sister, Marya Patrice Sherron, told BuzzFeed News of a homophobic comment posted to a GoFundMe page set up to help with funeral expenses.

“It was a very, very, very hateful and insensitive comment suggesting that [his death] didn’t matter because he was a gay male.”

Pham faces similar insensitivity from nonbinary erasure even as they struggle to save lives during the crisis.

Pham’s hospital has a dedicated COVID team where they work when they are on call. Pham said in the beginning stages of the crisis it took a week to get test results back so they weren’t certain who was infected and who wasn’t. Now, with better testing, the turnaround has been 24 hours or less.

“We know definitively if they are positive or negative faster, instead of just suspecting that they are,” Pham said. “It helps us triage better.”

Pham also said this is safer for the medical staff since many of the infected are asymptomatic. As a result, everyone is tested regardless of symptoms.

“We stress the importance of social distancing because you don’t know who could test COVID positive and they could be spreading it around unknowingly,” Pham said.

At the end of their shift, Pham removes their gear by following the guidance of a hospital instructional video. They then wipe down their shield with hospital-grade wipes and they toss the mask if it has been visibly soiled.

After cleaning themselves and their workstation again, they wear a surgical mask down to their car. They then clean themselves and the interior of their car with alcohol again. When they get home, they keep a six feet distance from their fiancee and toss their clothes into the washing machine before jumping into the shower.

When it is safe, the two of them can finally relax together and reconnect by cooking, watching Netflix or daydreaming in their shared hammock.

Nass similarly ends his day with a trip to the washing machine and shower before collapsing on the couch with his husband and Boston Terrier. In the hour or two before he falls asleep he catches up on “The Magicians” or “Schitt’s Creek.”

“Sometimes I eat dinner,” he said in a rare consideration of his own health.

“LGBTQ healthcare workers are stepping up to save lives in this crisis,” said Hector Vargas, the executive director of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, an LGBTQ medical professionals advocacy organization. “It’s long past time we step up for them to make sure they’re protected under the eyes of the law.”

Dr. Scott Nass is a gay cisgender man practicing in California. (Photo courtesy Nass)
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Calendar

Calendar: July 12-18

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, July 12

Center Aging Friday Tea Time will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more information, email [email protected]

Saturday, July 13

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Community Brunch” at 11 a.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. This fun weekly event brings the DMV area LGBTQ community, including allies, together for food and conversation. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

DC Comedy Clubhouse will host “DC’s Best Pride Comedy Show” at 8 p.m. This will be a night filled with laughter, fun, and celebration of Pride. Join for an evening of performances by talented comedians who will keep you entertained throughout the show. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Sunday, July 14

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Community Dinner” at 7 p.m. at Federico Ristorante Italiano. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Monday, July 15

Rainbow History Project will host “LGBTQ History Walking Tour of East Dupont and 17th Street” at 7:30 p.m. This walking tour of East Dupont and 17th Street will cover bars long-gone, women’s music, and activists’ headquarters. For more details, visit Eventbrite

Center Aging: Monday Coffee & Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of their choice. For more details, email [email protected]

Tuesday, July 16

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable. Guests are encouraged to bring their most authentic self to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. Admission is free and more details are on Eventbrite.

Gay Moms Club will host “Quick Chats: Overcoming Religious Stigma” at 4 p.m. at a location disclosed after registering. In this 30-minute session, LGBTQ moms discuss how to handle homophobia from extended family members. To register, visit Eventbrite

Wednesday, July 17

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit thedccenter.org/careers.

“Ariana and the Rose / Bright Light Bright Light” will be at 8 p.m. at DC9 Nightclub. Tickets start at $15 and are available on Eventbrite

Thursday, July 18

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Book Club” at 7:30 p.m. at Federico Ristorante Italiano Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. The book to be discussed is “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. For more details, visit Eventbrite.

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LGBTQ Trip from Washington to Auckland

Organising a dream LGBTQ trip to New Zealand has never been as easy as it is now

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The popularity of LGBTQ is booming in Washington: its representatives tend to form communities and speak widely about themselves. New Zealand is another destination where minorities can feel freedom and a lack of prejudice. LGBTQ traveling is the latest trend in 2024. 

More and more countries globally are increasing minorities’ acceptance, giving them the possibility of exploring varied places where they can openly express themselves without the fear of discrimination. New Zealand welcomes everyone and is tolerant of all worldviews. 

Auckland is the largest city in the country, so it’s not surprising that it’s the first to attract tourists. What do LGBTQ representatives must explore when visiting it?

LGBTQ Landmarks and Tours

Are you in the mood to explore the Kiwis’ history and culture? Auckland is the top location in this case! The city is LGBTQ-friendly, boasting a massive community of like-minded people. Special tours are available to travellers so that they can discover the beauty of this famous New Zealand destination with maximum fun and pleasure. 

Those desiring to discover the cultural significance of this city should consider local museums and art galleries. It’s possible to book a special LGBTQ guided tour in advance or explore sights independently – but make sure you have a detailed plan. Sky Tower is the most recognizable place in Auckland, so don’t forget to visit it once you arrive in this amazing city. 

The observation space of the 51st floor impresses guests as they can see every little detail from the bird’s-eye view. Of course, Kiwis won’t allow you to stay hungry: a high-class roof restaurant with the best service is perfect for a romantic dinner or a quick lunch with your LGBTQ friends. 

Hobbiton movie set is another place LGBTQ visitors should miss when visiting the largest NZ city. Fans of Lord of the Rings already know this location that tops the must-visit list in Auckland. The entertaining experience of appearing inside one of the best films in world history will diversify the trip and bring tons of fun.

Gambling Venues, Nightlife Entertainment and Online Casinos

LGBTQ communities are known for their passion for nightlife and entertainment – and here, Auckland will also not disappoint them. Gay-friendly bars are a common option in the city, so visitors can find plenty of places to enjoy a tasty drink with like-minded individuals. 

Don’t pass by amazing The Eagle Bar or Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret for tons of unforgettable emotions. Parties never end in this New Zealand city: visitors can attend dozens of nightclubs friendly to LGBTQ representatives. 

Gambling is another nationwide entertainment in the country, and Auckland offers everything casino lovers need to have fun. First, risk seekers have round-the-clock access to leading New Zealand casino brands with thousands of thrilling gaming solutions and exclusive promotions. 

Online gambling is popular and accessible for both locals and tourists. LGBTQ travellers can easily spin the reel during the sightseeing tour or wine testing somewhere in the middle of a national park. 

In addition, Auckland offers players over 20 to visit authentic brick-and-mortar casinos with luxury interiors and fantastic game choices. Gambling resorts are the trend now, so don’t hesitate to include them in your must-visit list when exploring New Zealand.

Wineries and Picturesque Excursions

The country is renowned for its picturesque nature – you won’t find anything similar in the world. Majestic national parks not touched by the human hand is the top thing every visitor must see. Abel Tasman National Park, Huka Falls, Lake Tekapo, and Pancake Rocks are only some locations near Auckland that LGBTQ visitors mustn’t miss. 

While some people can endlessly admire picturesque landscapes, others are quickly bored with this activity. However, not discovering the beauty of NZ nature will be a real crime, so LGBTQ communities often prefer to diversify their pastimes by visiting wineries. The latter are common in Auckland, so finding a suitable tour won’t be challenging. 

Wine tastings are among the main attractions Kiwis are really proud of; local drinks are of exceptional quality and are sold worldwide. LGBTQ travellers shouldn’t miss the chance to try the best options in their homeland. Luckily, no special actions are necessary since tourists just need to find a suitable tour to explore the hidden tastes of New Zealand and enjoy the pastime uniting with the picturesque nature.

Final Thoughts

Organising a dream LGBTQ trip to New Zealand has never been as easy as it is now – the broad acceptance of minorities in the country and lots of attractions, even for the pickiest travellers are a perfect combo. Tourists shouldn’t pass by the amazing nature that Kiwis are really proud of and visit majestic waterfalls, national parks with unique flora and fauna representatives, and lakes with crystal water. 

Complement the excursion with a wine tasting, and you will definitely capture the most unforgettable moments. Many LGBTQ communities are inspired to combine sightseeing with vibrant nightlife, and the choice of bars and clubs won’t leave anyone indifferent. 

Casinos are the guilty pleasure for many people – and Auckland offers multiple gambling opportunities for adrenaline hunters. For those seeking relaxation, Auckland offers top beach hotels and resorts providing the perfect seaside escape. Book your flight from Washington and enjoy a trip full of adventure and excitement.

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Movies

Two queer indies rank among the year’s standout films

Don’t miss ‘Big Boys’ and ‘Cora Bora’

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Isaac Krasner and David Johnson III in ‘Big Boys.’ (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

If there is any downside to living in an era when movies about queer people are finally plentiful, it’s that sometimes the best of them are overshadowed by bigger, splashier films and end up getting lost in the mix.

Two such titles are a pair of indie projects, both of which focus on “outsider” queer characters, newly available on the VOD market after brief-and-limited theatrical runs; each of them deserves a better fate than that. 

The first of these, “Big Boys,” was a major hit in the 2023 queer festival circuit, winning multiple awards (including Outstanding Lead Performance honors for its young star, Isaac Krasner, at LA’s Outfest) and emerging as an audience favorite. It’s easy to see why.

Written, produced, and directed by Corey Sherman, it’s a small, slice-of-life story centered on Jamie (Krasner), a bright-but-awkward 14-year-old trying to navigate the dual challenges of growing up as a chubby gay-and-closeted teen, who sets out (along with his slick and more confident older brother Will, played by Taj Cross) on a camping trip with favorite cousin Allie (Dora Madison), though he’s initially disappointed when he finds out her new boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III) is also coming along. His attitude changes, however, when the interloper turns out to be a handsome young man who wears his physical “chunkiness” with an easy confidence. Yes, it’s an instant and impossible crush, leading to a weekend adventure that pushes awkward boundaries for all four campers. But aside from his attractiveness, Dan also emerges as a positive role model for Jamie, who begins to find a confidence of his own.

Equal parts bittersweet coming-of-age story and uncomfortable-yet-endearing comedy, Sherman’s movie wins us over early on, largely through the strength of Krasner’s performance; the young actor exhibits not just the comedic chops necessary to get laughs from even his most painful moments, but the vulnerability to make them ring true. Seemingly unafraid of exploring his own identity through his character, he turns in a tour-de-force which stands up to comparison with some of the greatest “young actor breakthrough” performances of all time.

He’s given an ideal foil in Johnson, whose easygoing charm as Dan still allows us subtle hints of an internal process that keeps him from coming off as callow and clueless – something that pays off well in the film’s quiet-but-heart-stirring climax, which is best left unspoiled here. Madison also provides invaluable support with a performance that captures the conflicted impulses that come between youth and adulthood, and Cross successfully gets past the casual toxicity of his aggressively hetero-centric character to remain sympathetic. 

It’s a stellar collection of performances from an ensemble of relative newcomers, and it goes a long way toward endearing “Big Boys” to a presumably queer audience, which will likely find resonance in the way they each – especially Kasner – convey its theme of trying to claim and define one’s young identity when it goes against the grain of the world around you. But it’s ultimately Sherman, who drew heavily from his own experiences growing up as a plus-size queer kid in creating the film, that deserves full credit – not just for putting it all together, but for having the courage and determination to deliver a queer story that foregoes the glitz and glamour of “gay romance” and connects with the lived experience of viewers who may feel left out of the typically glossy mainstream depictions of queer life.

Cut from a similar cloth is “Cora Bora,” starring “Hacks” fan favorite Meg Stalter as the title character, a bisexual musician who might just be the poster child for clueless self-centeredness. Openly rude, unrepentantly shallow, and blatantly manipulative, she steamrolls her way through life seemingly oblivious to the impact her attitude has on others. Having departed her native Portland – and left behind longtime girlfriend Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs), though ostensibly maintaining a “long-distance open relationship” with her – to pursue a music career in Los Angeles, success has proven elusive. She decides to make a surprise visit back home to re-evaluate, only to find that a new girl (Ayden Mayeri) has moved in to take her place. When her attempts to reassert her claim in the household just make matters worse, Cora is forced to recognize that both her professional and personal lives are a shambles – but can she find the humility it will take to get “real” enough to repair them?

Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt from a screenplay by Rhianon Jones, “Cora Bora” also relies heavily on the talents of its star player. Statler, in a turn that lends a darker, more desperate edge to the comedic persona that has made her “Hacks” character one of that show’s biggest assets, is at once monstrous and endearing, a ridiculously broad yet shrewdly-drawn caricature of modern bourgeois boorishness that serves as a fragile cover for something deeper and – without spoiling anything – profoundly traumatic. The journey we take with her is at once hilarious and powerfully affecting, echoing a time-honored comic tradition of transcending pain by finding humor in a pain that feels universal.

She’s aided by an equally gifted supporting cast, with both Gibbs and Mayeri finding enough heart to keep either of their characters – the other two points of the film’s romantic triangle – from being positioned as a “villain,” and a convincing turn from Manny Jacinto (known for his breakout “himbo” role on TV’s afterlife comedy “The Good Place”), as a character that would otherwise seem too good to be true, lending credibility to an eventual resolution that hinges on a pile of coincidences that would seem absurd without his sincerity. There are also appearances from other familiar faces in cameo roles – such as Margaret Cho as part of a polyamorous commune and Chelsea Peretti as an outraged dog owner – which serve as highlights in a movie already rich with them.

Both “Big Boys” and “Cora Bora” are linked by a common thread. Each of them features a queer protagonist, of course, but they are outsiders even within their own community. Ultimately, their struggles are born of a perspective that separates them from the rest of the world, a lived experience that others around them do not and cannot fully share. It would be easy enough for either film to make its lead character the butt of the joke, but neither of them makes that choice. The humor comes through their relatability, rather than from their “otherness,” and that makes all the difference. Despite these films’ occasional painfulness, their kindness is what comes shining through – not just toward their misfit characters, but toward the misfits in the audience, too.

For our money, that’s what the world needs a lot more of these days, and it places these two hidden gems among 2024’s best releases so far.

Megan Statler stars in ‘Cora Bora.’ (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)
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