Connecticut Voice

Your LGBTQ+ Voice

Changing the Face of Surgery

Dr. David Shapiro is on a mission to make healthcare more representative and inclusive and to ensure that when people come to him or his colleagues, they receive the care that respects—and honors—their chosen identities.

Shapiro grew up in Middletown, attended medical school at UCONN, and is currently Chief Medical Officer for Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, a member of Trinity Health of New England. As a young man, he became aware that he identified as gay, and he says, “I told people I was part of the LGBTQ community and pursued my career, but says, “every time I went somewhere else, I had to re-out myself. It becomes not onerous, but tiresome.”

Shapiro had to keep doing this because he had chosen to go into surgery as his specialty—not a very diverse group. “It was difficult because it was a macho culture, the so-called ‘manly’ experience of surgery.” He says the field wasn’t, in general, welcoming to women or people of color. Gay people could pass, he adds, because sexual orientation often isn’t obvious to a casual observer.

In addition to his own life story, Shapiro was also shaped by one other event: the torture and murder of Matthew Shephard in October 1998, shortly after Shapiro had entered medical school. After a residency interview where he was told “there’s no place for new mothers or fags,” Shapiro found a more welcoming (or at least neutral) place and emerged from his training committed to supporting inclusion and diversity in the surgical field.

When he got to Saint Francis, he says that although he is not religious, he wanted to make sure that the “mission-based institution was serving everyone.” He’s proud to say that, “Saint  Francis recognizes your self-identified family. They don’t lock people out because of who they are.” He adds that this practice is faith-based in its best form—welcoming to everyone.

In recent years, in large part because of what he has observed in the culture, his practice has become more focused. After an acquaintance of his was caught in crossfire in a bar shooting, he has concentrated on injury prevention, gun and violence protection, and has become increasingly aware of the ways in which more people are being targeted with violence for their gender expression.

Though he’s not an activist in a traditional way—little marching or community organizing—Shapiro nonetheless puts his beliefs in practice every day. “It was important for me to have people know that I could be an advocate for them. I wanted to be sure that other gay men knew I was there for them.” In addition, he wanted to be able to support people with gender dysphoria, though Saint Francis doesn’t provide gender affirming surgery.

Shapiro wants people to know that he and his colleagues are creating a welcoming environment. Trinity Health has been working under the Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Initiative of 2018, which means that all forms and documents throughout the organization have been revised to respect gender identities. Internally they have trainings for advancing inclusion caring for the LGBTQ+ population, and a colleague resource group called Pride at Trinity Health (PATH) helps ensure that everyone who interacts with patients assures those patients’ needs and identities are fully recognized.

For the world of surgery, Shapiro is determined that the field be more welcome.  As one of the founders of the Association of Out Surgeons and Allies (AOSA), he says, “We wanted to make sure that the specialty of surgery didn’t exclude people because they’re LGBTQ+, but that they are invited in.”

“We want our providers to represent our patients. Shared experience makes everyone more comfortable.” Shapiro, who identifies as a bear, is an enthusiastic and charming presence who cares deeply about his patients and their outcomes. On meeting him one might notice his progressive pride pin on one lapel and a Black Lives Matter on the other. Shapiro isn’t doing this to promote his views, however. Rather, he wants patients he consults to see those and feel comfortable raising any issues they might have. For Shapiro, it’s all about people feeling comfortable and cared for.

He has one other project that’s near-and-dear to him: “Stop the Bleed.” It’s a global empowerment and training program that helps bystanders in a violent event or accident know how to intervene to treat bleeding victims. Shapiro points out that bleeding is the number one cause of preventable death in such situations. You can find out more about this program online at