From Theory to Praxis: Medical Care of LGBT Individuals

Over this semester, I have been exposed to a broad spectrum of concepts, issues, and questions through our readings and discussions. GSS has given me a new lens through which I see the world and a deeper understanding of the structures and institutions in place that govern our lives. As a senior, I will soon be entering the job market and am really looking forward to taking my newly acquired GSS knowledge to my future endeavors. I am looking for a job in the medical field, a field in which LGBT individuals are underserved and often reluctant to pursue care. In this context, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are often grouped together in a way that implies homogeneity, which is not the case. These individuals are distinct in terms of race, socioeconomic status, age, and ethnicity in addition to their gender and sexual identities. What groups these people together is the underlying discrimination and stigma that they face in society as a result of living at the intersection of multiple different groups. The intersectionality of marginalized groups is a topic that came up frequently in our class discussion and has really opened my eyes as to how a person’s identity is not defined by just one element or trait, it is the combination of these interlinked traits that make up one’s identity.

There has been a long history of discrimination stemming from a lack of understanding of LGBT individuals in the medical field (i.e. the listing of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM). However, as understanding has improved, the treatment of LGBT individuals in the medical setting has gotten somewhat better. There are certain diseases that disproportionately affect the LGBT community such as HIV and other STDs, and these disparities stem from structural and legal factors, social discrimination, access and availability of medical care, and the lack of culturally informed health care.

There are many things that those in the medical field can do to encourage an inclusive and welcoming medical environment. Below are some suggestions to be implemented in different medical environments, which I hope to bring with me to my future occupation:

  1. Allow patients to privately self-input information about gender identity and sexual orientation (ensure that there are a wide range of options on the questionnaire).
  2. Allow patients to specify the pronouns that they prefer.
  3. Be open and non-judgmental when collecting sexual histories of patients.
  4. Refrain from making assumptions about individuals based on appearance.
  5. Do not assume heterosexuality (i.e. Ask “Do you have a
    partner?” rather than “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?” when conducting sexual
    history).
  6. Make sure all staff are trained to interact respectfully
    with LGBT patients (i.e. ensuring use of their preferred pronouns).
  7. Make sure that the medical environment has a non-discrimination policy that includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and publicly display this policy.
  8. The use of brochures and medical information that include images of LGBT people as well as medical information that specifically addresses concerns that
    these individuals face.

All of these suggestions are important, as a clinician may be one of the first people whom an individual discloses non-heterosexual behavior to, and for this to happen, individuals need to be in a space where they feel comfortable. The goals of medicine include providing quality and effective care, and through these suggestions and the scope of my GSS knowledge, I plan to do my best to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all patients.

Works Cited

http://www.lgbthealtheducation.org/wp-content/uploads/Improving-the-Health-of-LGBT-People.pdf

http://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/medical_education_residency/program_directors/Reprint289D_LGBT.pdf

Beyond Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law

“A woman married to a man for nine months is entitled to Social Security survivor’s benefits when he dies; a woman living for nineteen years with a man or woman to whom she is not married receives nothing.”[1] The debate over marriage equality for same-sex couples was one that took over the country’s social and political agenda in the early 2000’s. Nancy Polikoff’s Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage challenges this agenda by asking both straights and gays alike to consider a broader definition of what constitutes a family and how this structure should be protected under the law. Those protected by the institution of marriage have privileged status in regards to tax benefits, estate benefits, government benefits, employment benefits, medical benefits, and death benefits among others. Polikoff calls for a revamping of family law; one that takes into consideration the changing nature of family units while also deemphasizing the status of marriage in our society.

Nancy Polikoff is a professor of law at American University Washington College of Law. She teaches Family Law and a seminar on Children of LGBT Parents and has been writing about, litigating about, and speaking about cases involving LGBT families for the past thirty years. Her accomplishments include co-founding the Washington, DC Feminist Law Collective, supervising family law programs at the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, and co-authoring one of the first law review articles on the custody rights of lesbian mothers. Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage is Polikoff’s first book. She has a daughter in her twenties and lives with her partner in Washington, DC.

The first half of the Beyond Marriage gives the reader historical context as to how we got to the position we are in with marriage today. It begins with the advances made by the second-wave feminist movement in the context of marriage, and then describes how those advances have been attacked since the 1970s by the religious right. Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem and others are cited in this section, along with groundbreaking legislature like Title IX. From there, she moves into the gay rights movement and the intersection of lesbianism and feminism. Eventually she delves into the marriage movement of the conservative right and the how the push for preserving marriage as an institution for heterosexual couples strengthened marriage’s societal status. She then brings the reader to the contemporary fight for marriage equality, the most thorough part of the first half of the monograph.

Generally, there are two dominant perspectives in the contemporary marriage debate. First, there are those who support the institution of marriage and believe that opening it up to non-heterosexual couples will undermine social structure. Second, there are those who support equal access to marriage for LGBT individuals since they deserve the same access to benefits as married heterosexual couples. Throughout the book, Polikoff makes reference to groups on both sides of the argument. Frequently mentioned supporters of the marriage movement include The Institute for American Values, the Alliance Defense Fund, and the Liberty Counsel. Those often mentioned on the side of marriage equality include Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. All of these groups fight for legislation supporting their side of the argument or represent individuals in relevant court cases. Polikoff separates herself from these prominent groups by taking a third stance. She questions the legitimacy of marriage as the necessary qualification for receiving legal benefits and questions whether it is fair to exclude so many other family forms by limiting such benefits. This allows her to reframe the debate over marriage by making the point that the benefits associated with marriage are not inherent, they have been constructed over time and have increasingly drawn a line between families formed through marriage and families formed through other means. By fighting for the right to marriage for LGBT couples, dominant organizations like the Human Rights Campaign are reinforcing the place of marriage in our society as cultural institution that unfairly awards rights to the married and leaves those who are unmarried out to dry. She enforces the argument that marriage is outdated and the benefits that accompany it were developed decades ago when having sex outside of marriage was taboo, illegitimate children were considered outcasts, and marriage had gender roles legally entwined within it. Through the examination of historical movements, she determines that people have changed the way that they view and structure their lives and the current marriage equality movement does not reflect this change.

The second half of the book is dedicated to describing specific aspects of her proposed approach, called “valuing all families,” to make marriage matter less. The most important aspect of this approach is identifying the purpose of specific laws that currently grant marriage-specific legal consequences. By understanding the specific objectives of these laws, relationships can be identified that would further the law’s objective without creating a specific special status for married people. In regards to this approach, she addresses health care, medical leave, medical care, domestic partner benefits, the dissolution of relationships, death, and economic compensation. Polikoff argues that by taking this approach, our society can move more towards a legal system based on the nature of care and dependency in relationships, not just the relationship’s specific name. Her solutions are not only for same-sex couples, they are also for people non-conjugal relationships, like unmarried elderly people, caregivers and the people they help, or friends living together. For instance, through this approach she examines the current family and medical leave practices of businesses across the country, supported by anecdotes of those who were not allowed such leave to care for an ill family member. Many medical leave policies are limited to caring for a spouse or child with serious illness and are often unpaid. Polikoff proposes support of the “Healthy Families Act,” a bill that provides seven days of paid leave per year “to care for a child, a parent, a spouse, or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”[2] This kind of reform breaks down barriers and helps to redefine the law’s narrow definitions of family that do not accurately reflect today’s society.

Polikoff’s breadth of knowledge of her field is evident as she provides a comprehensive overview of legal history as it applies to social movements throughout the decades. This method is extremely effective in giving the reader context into the foundational aspects of marriage and establishing the true dividing line that it has become. By making interdisciplinary links through feminism, sexual liberation, class, and justice, her argument is multidimensional and looks at marriage through the views of different legal lenses. The inclusion of a significant amount of laws and court cases is appropriate since the nature of her “valuing all families” solution focuses on reforming these laws. In contrast to the formality of the included law, Polikoff includes many anecdotes and case studies throughout the monograph to explain how the law has failed certain families because of the marriage dividing line. These short stories help to break up the dense law material and make it easy to envision why her reform needs to be implemented in real world situations.

Although at first the idea of diminishing and eventually removing the significance of marriage in a society may seem radical to the general population, Polikoff’s presentation of her argument makes it seem truly possible and reasonable. She provides concrete solutions for reforming laws, many based at the state and local level, and also provides several examples of places where similar laws have been successfully enacted. Even with the abundance of case law, the Beyond Marriage is very much readable by those without Polikoff’s extensive background. This monograph is meant to reach a broad audience due to its increasing relevance, however, due to its connectedness with the marriage equality movement and gay rights, the audience becomes more limited.

Polikoff reinforces in Beyond Marriage that people should have the choice to marry based on their individual beliefs, whether they be cultural, spiritual, or religions in nature. It should not be a choice that people are forced into to obtain unique legal benefits that are specific only to marriage. The end goal of her efforts is a system in which marriage is not the rigid dividing line between who is in and who is out regarding family law, through her “valuing all families” approach. This monograph is a valuable resource for people in all family structures and can help our society move towards a legal system that helps improve the lives of all individuals and families.

Works Cited

Polikoff, Nancy D. Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.

[1] Nancy D. Polikoff, Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), Cover page.

[2] Nancy D. Polikoff, Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 172.

Burger or Blow Job?

“Sex sells.” This is a phrase that is ever popular in the advertising world and is used to sell products, services, and businesses alike. This strategy is usually seen as effective, but sometimes advertising companies purposefully push boundaries past what is deemed acceptable in order to evoke shock value in their viewers. In 2009, Burger King did just that with the release of an advertisement promoting their new “Super Seven Incher” burger. The advertisement had a limited release; it was only made public in Singapore, but was pulled from the market very shortly after it began circulation due to its controversial nature.

The images of the advertisement are overtly sexual and intend to depict a woman performing oral sex on the “Super Seven Incher.” The woman is the focus of the advertisement, as her profile from the neck up is shown on the left side of the ad. She is a white woman, has a blonde bob, and a face full of makeup. Her eyes are wide and her red lips are parted in an oval shape. Coming out from the right side of the page is the Super Seven Incher, aimed directly at the woman’s mouth. The advertisement is shaded darker at the corners and becomes increasingly lighter as the focus moves inwards towards the mouth and the burger. Below the image of the woman and the burger are the words “IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND AWAY” in white, bold letters. Below the phrase is a yellow panel depicting the burger along with a drink and fries and a price of $6.25 for the whole meal. The description of the meal is in the lower right hand corner of the ad.

The target audience of this advertisement is very obviously the heterosexual male and it is supposed to be viewed through the framework of the male gaze. The sexual nature of the image is attention grabbing and conveys the message that by eating the Super Seven Incher, they will receive as much gratification as they would from receiving oral sex. By depicting the act in this way, the ad is designed to create a fantasy for heterosexual males, which can be fulfilled by eating this burger. Eating this burger will make heterosexual males happier, more satisfied, and more appealing to women, according to the ad.

Depicting the woman in the advertisement in such a hyper-feminine way insinuates that the woman’s sole purpose in the advertisement is to provide pleasure and act as a sexual object. Creators of the ad specifically used a young white woman with bright red lips and blonde hair, characteristics that are routinely associated with sex appeal, to target their audience. Although the advertisement was released in Singapore, the woman is white which reinforces the westernized beauty ideals that we see across most media. By portraying the woman in this way, the ad creators have established that this is what a “real woman” should look like and this is how she should act. The woman is submissive to the man and his desires (as represented by the burger) and the ad links her femininity to sexual objectification. Sex sells, but usually only if it is in a heteronormative way. If the roles had been reversed and an image was insinuating that a male was performing oral sex on a female, the reactions would have been different. People would have been taken aback by the overt sexuality, since a male gratifying female sexual desires is not something often portrayed in contemporary media. The same goes for if a woman was illustrated performing oral sex on a woman, a man on another man, or any other combination of gender identifications.

The imagery of the advertisement is extremely sexual and this is furthered by the use of language surrounding the ad. The name of the burger itself, the “Super Seven Incher,” has nothing to do with the taste appeal of the burger. It does not describe what is on the burger or its quality, but instead describes the length of the burger. This burger length is a not so subtle reference to male genitalia, adding to the visualization of the sexual image that is portrayed. In the quote under the burger, the words “IT’LL BLOW” are larger than the rest of the words on the page, immediately catching the viewer’s attention. Slang terms for performing oral sex are “blowing” or “giving a blow job,” so the use of this specific language was no accident. The most glaring use of language to conjure up sexual images was in the description of the burger in the lower right hand corner of the advertisement. The advertisement tells its audience to “Fill your desire with something long, juicy, and flame grilled” and “Yearn for more after you taste the mind blowing burger” Both of these particular quotes describe the burger, but they do so in a way that expresses the longing and need of the heterosexual male to have his desires fulfilled. The “yearning” and “desire” that is expressed can refer to the male’s need for sexual gratification, but can also refer to the female’s desire “for more,” not in reference to the burger, but alluding to it as a representation of male genitalia. Using the images along with the specific choice of words furthers the message of the advertisement and adds to its shock value.

Although the ad was removed from the market, it was successful in the regard that its shock value made it widely circulated and talked about. It successfully perpetuated the image of traditional gender roles and used sexual imagery to maintain heteronormativity. Its purpose was to push boundaries, spark conversation, and evoke a strong emotional response from its viewers, whether it was one of desire or disgust. By this ad fulfilling its purpose, Burger King got the publicity that it wanted, a publicity that has lasted longer than they could have imagined.

Works Cited:

Stransky, Tanner. “Burger King’s Super Seven Incher Ad: Subtlety Is Dead.” EW.com. N.p., 24 June 2009. Web.

“Top 10 Tasteless Ads.” Time.com. N.p. Web. <http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1907218_1907236,00.html>