LGBT advocacy group awarded national honor



By Emily-Kate Cardwell

Within its first two years on campus, one UK organization has received national attention for working to improve the lives   of UK community members.

UK Health Occupation Professionals for Equality was awarded the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health Achievement Award, given annually by the American Medical Student Association and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. The award acknowledges advocacy of LGBT health issues and concerns within a medical campus. UK HOPE received the award along with UK’s chapter of AMSA.

UK HOPE co-founders and second-year medical students Chris Garnett and Zach Threlkeld said the mission statement of UK HOPE is to promote a more inclusive environment for  LGBT students, faculty and staff.

“UK HOPE is the first of its kind,” Garnett said. “It is an intercollegiate organization representing LGBT interests of students, faculty, and staff from all six health professional colleges on the UK campus. UK HOPE is neither an exclusively student organization nor exclusively College of Medicine.”

Garnett said past recipients, including Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts, set the bar high in urban medical schools in which these issues concerning equality have been recognized for a while. Garnett said for a school in Kentucky to stand out, he knew his group would have to go above and beyond.

“We knew that being from Kentucky, to have any chance at winning the award, we would really have to do something special,” Garnett said.

Threlkeld said being recognized on a national stage has been a reward for the efforts of UK HOPE, but it is also a positive reflection of the entire university.

“This award represents the forward progress of the College of Medicine and UK as a whole toward an environment that more enthusiastically embraces inclusivity and diversity, especially for LGBT people,” Threlkeld said. “I think it’s especially important given that LGBT individuals have often been the subjects of discrimination in Kentucky.”

Threlkeld said throughout the year the group has focused on outreach to LGBT undergraduates, the inclusion of LGBT issues in campus diversity efforts, fundraising for LGBT advocacy organizations and the institution of faculty-specific training to enhance LGBT student mentorship.

One UK HOPE event in particular included the support of UK’s AMSA chapter.

UK AMSA hosted the LGBT Pride in Healthcare Forum in March 2009. The forum focused on the rights of LBGT patients and provided attendees with real-life scenarios depicting the plight of LGBT patients.

As for the future of UK HOPE, Threlkeld said he hopes for lobbying efforts to encourage LGBT-affirming policies in the medical school admissions process, as well as the creation of a grant or award to spur student initiatives to enhance diversity in the College of Medicine.

The award will be presented at the 2010 AMSA national conference in Anaheim, California.