When students in her clinical group (NURS 335) voiced concern about properly communicating and assessing members of the LGBTQI community, Kathleen M. Bell, M.S.N., RNC-OB, WHNP-BC, clinical instructor in the School of Nursing’s Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, organized a recent panel discussion featuring experts from across the campus.

The panel discussion, titled “Let’s talk about sex,” was held as a result of “students wanting to better themselves and be the best nurses they can be,” Bell said.

Bell kicked off the panel by sharing a quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, author of the blog “Momastery.”

“‘If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are,’” Bell quoted, “‘…Then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.’”

Candace Burton, Ph.D., RN, FNE, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, served as a panelist and discussed how sexual minorities are some of the most overlooked populations within health disparities. Social discourse, invisibility, stereotyping and victim blaming lead to the LGBTQI community being rendered invisible, Burton said.

“As a nurse, you should be looking for those who are rendered invisible and it’s your job to create a safe space for them to be open and honest with you about their medical needs and concerns,” she said.

Burton also suggested that nurses should try to always consider the context they’re in with patients and eliminate the term “noncompliant” from their vocabulary. She encouraged nurses to recognize their patients’ complexities and reduce any potential harm by making it clear to their patients that they are non-judgmental.

In addition to Burton, other panelists also stressed that care providers could make a difference in their patients’ health care experience by not making assumptions and by creating a space for them to be understood and heard.

“You have to be careful with what you say so you don’t cause someone to exit heath care forever,” said Chris Broom, a doctoral candidate studying education with a focus on medical ethics education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. “Just because you’ve met one person who identifies as gay or lesbian doesn’t mean you understand the whole community.”

Tarynn M. Witten, Ph.D., LCSW, FGSA, associate professor and senior fellow of the VCU Center for the Study of Biological Complexity, said there is a history of violence and abuse by health care professionals against the transgender community.

“There are real trust issues and a fear of health care workers. Show that you understand that,” said Witten, who has extensively researched and published on the subject of transgender health care and health issues of violence against the trans-community.

Afton Bradley (M.S.W. ’13/SW), HIV test counselor and program manager at the Richmond Fan Free Clinic, told the audience that if they are unsure of how to address someone, “always ask and make sure your questions are appropriate to the role you play as a health care provider.”

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Jeff Petraco, a rising senior in the accelerated BS program, is recognized along with his classmates for inspiring this panel.

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Afton Bradley (M.S.W. ’13/SW)

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Dr. Tarynn Witten (left), Afton Bradley (center), and Chris Broom (right)

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