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Celebrating Pride Month: Embracing diversity and advocating for equality in health care

Bright colors and rainbow flags — Pride Month brings visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. Aside from the vibrancy it brings, it highlights the LGBTQ+ community and their presence, contributions and struggles. 

Pride Month helps stop stereotyping and misinformation, and puts the focus on how to be better advocates for LGBTQ+ patients and families. These goals are at the heart of the Indiana University Department of Emergency Medicine's participation in the Indy Pride Parade every year. This year, the department trained a large group of parade volunteers with "Stop the Bleed Training.” This program, led by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, is designed to teach individuals how to effectively control severe bleeding in emergencies. Geoff Hays, MD, a Department of Emergency Medicine faculty member who trained volunteers alongside other community experts and partners, leads this iniative.

Dr. Geoff Hays and Member of IndyPride Board of Directors at the Latest Stop the Bleed Training Event

Hays also founded the Department of Emergency Medicine LGBTQ+ affinity and mentoring group, Queer EM, with Brooke Henderson, MD. A resident at the time of Queer EM’s founding, Henderson is now an IUEM faculty member. This group is a community for LGBTQ+ faculty, residents, fellows, students, staff and allies to build connections and provide mentoring.

“Working with Queer EM has been able to give me a focus on an area that's really important to me,” Hays said.

Since 2021, Queer EM has grown significantly and made a considerable impact on the community. The group has been awarded grant funding for events such as Stop the Bleed to provide kits to queer-focused businesses and others.

“Promoting these efforts has really been encouraging to me, and seeing the residents grow and succeed, building their resumes and making it part of their professional identity has been incredibly rewarding,” Hays said. “They are going to bring that forward into their other venues.”

Resident Tony Ragusa, MD, a member of Queer EM, was drawn to the Emergency Medicine Residency program for several reasons, including the Queer EM group.

“There's a space for people to exist,” he said.

Ragusa spearheaded the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) program at the IU Health Methodist Hospital emergency department. PrEP is a medical program designed to prevent HIV infection in individuals who do not have HIV but are at high risk of contracting it. It involves taking daily medication that significantly reduces the risk of HIV infection if exposed to the virus.

Both Hays and Ragusa have noticed more LGBTQ+ community members seeking care in the emergency department, reflecting the increasing LGBTQ+ population, especially among younger generations. They acknowledge the challenge of capturing the exact number of these patients due to difficulties in tracking the data over the years. However, efforts to gather this information are ongoing to better provide care for patients as demographics of this community change.

“The numbers are increasing,” Hays said. “So, does that reflect people's comfort and willingness to disclose that information? Does that reflect expanding definitions of queerness? Does that reflect people being more open about their own personal identity? It could be any number of those things.”.

Overall, the Queer EM group continues to create a more inclusive and understanding space for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community to feel comfortable receiving care in the emergency department.

Dr. Geoff Hays, Dr. Kris Nanagas, Dr. Peter Pang and Dr. Kate Pollard at 2023 Indy Pride Parade
“It makes people think about the LGBTQ + population a little bit more and think about the disparities that those people have and have been through,” Ragusa said. “Just bringing that to people's attention makes them provide a little bit more compassionate and knowledgeable care so that they can make people feel more comfortable with seeking medical care.”

By expanding programs like PrEP and showing patients they can receive care regardless of how they identify, Hays and Ragusa strive to make meaningful changes for the community they are passionate about.

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Department of Emergency Medicine

The Department of Emergency Medicine delivers patient care of unsurpassed quality and advanced emergency medicine through education, innovation and discovery in a collegial environment that promotes intellectual and professional growth.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.