By Jane Latus
Physical therapist Lisa Gramlich and emergency medicine physician Siri Daulaire were satisfied with their jobs at Middlesex Health, but something was missing: they realized that while there was work being done to support LGBTQ+ patient care, recognition and support of LGBTQ+ employees was less visible. Gramlich and Daulaire didn’t exactly hide their identities at work, but they still felt the need to leave them at the door. Gramlich remembers one day walking down a hospital hallway thinking, “Is there anyone working here like me?”
So the two talked, then acted. They are now co-chairs of MH+ Pride, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that is fully supported by the health system and aimed at creating a welcoming, affirming, inclusive and safe environment for all LGBTQ+ employees.
MH+ Pride has filled the vacuum Gramlich and Daulaire previously felt by providing connections between employees, a safe environment and—most important of all, they say—visibility.
Before creating the group, Gramlich says, “I was a different person outside the hospital and felt like just an employee at work. Now I feel like I can be an LGBTQ+ employee.”
Daulaire says she feels relieved. “It’s been really nice to connect, and to feel like part of the community instead of educating other people…and waiting for the side-eye when I mention my wife. It’s a really nice feeling.”
Especially because she works the night shift, Daulaire appreciates how MH+ Pride has connected her with employees she doesn’t ordinarily meet.
Although employees are the group’s primary focus, patients also benefit from its work. When queer employees are proudly out, and all staff is respectful of and educated about LGBTQ+ patients’ health needs, patients feel welcome and in good hands. Something as simple as an employee wearing a pronoun badge (one of MH+ Pride’s first actions) can make all the difference to a patient.
Daulaire says she’s seen a change in Middlesex’s affirmation of its queer employees since she started working there in 2017—and seen the benefit for patients as well. There once was a policy against “unnatural” colored hair, says Daulaire who, at the time she spoke with CT Voice, had vivid red hair. Now she sees a lot of patients with multi-colored hair, and believes her appearance makes patients feel comfortable.
In just four years since getting organized (more like three, thanks to Covid’s interruption) and only two since officially launching, the Pride committee’s efforts have, well, worked. People tell Daulaire they feel seen, and safer. Gramlich says she’s even happier at work. “It gives you that sense you are not alone.”
MH+ Pride’s efforts have been so successful that Gramlich thinks it should inspire other organizations to form LGBTQ+ ERGs. “Such groups offer a non-confrontational way to ask questions, make changes, and do better,” she says, and “the result is a stronger organization.”
The first thing the MH+ Pride Committee did was to define its purpose, which is to:
- Provide a forum for discussion, mentoring and support.
- Serve as a resource to ensure a safe and welcoming climate.
- Ensure visibility, awareness and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community in all aspects of the organization.
- Educate healthcare providers and staff about the LGBTQ+ patients’ healthcare issues.
In 2021, the group launched a membership drive, adopted its logo, surveyed its members, and designed and launched the pronoun badges that are now offered to all employees.
Then they really got busy. They created a resource guide for transitioning and transitioned employees that contains resources for employees, managers, and human resources, including sample announcement letters, to-do-checklists, and educational information.
They conducted staff-wide education on diversity and the importance of pronouns. They held a Progress Pride Flag raising ceremony at Middlesex Hospital. During last year’s Pride Month, they created systemwide screensavers featuring LGBTQ+ statistics and information.
When the health system conducted an employee survey on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, MH+ Pride participated in creating the survey’s LGBTQ+-related questions.
They held a Trans Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2022, and again used screensavers to honor trans people who have been murdered.
They also had fun while creating visibility when marching in the Middletown Pride Parade. The number of employees marching in the parade grows each year.
More social events are “on the horizon,” says Gramlich. “We had plans, but COVID got in the way.
There’s still a lot of work to do, say Gramlich and Daulaire. They have begun meeting with the city of Middletown’s LGBTQ Commission to establish a relationship and plan cooperative work.
The Pride committee expects to generate more ideas for projects to follow from the results of the health system’s employee survey.
They are currently creating an intranet site for employees with information on educational opportunities, as well as resources like the resource guide for transitioning employees.
And beyond continuing to provide education, they are also beginning to create toolkits that medical providers can work through to establish competency and be designated as “LGBTQ+ providers.”
A measure of Middlesex Health’s responsiveness to its LGBTQ+ patients and employees is its Center for Gender Medicine and Wellness, which specializes in caring for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming patients.
In addition, The Human Rights Campaign has awarded Middlesex five consecutive “LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader” designations. The honor is based on the facilities’ policies and practices related to equity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ patients, visitors, and employees.