Celebrating Pride: Making Your Practice More Inclusive for LGBTQIA+ Clients and Staff

With more than 18 million adults identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, and 7 out of 10 being pet owners, adopting inclusive policies can lead to greater client satisfaction.

Chances are, your veterinary practice already has clients who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning, transgender, intersex, asexual, or a range of other noncisgender or nonstraight identities.

by Linda Childers

For Hilary Granson, DVM, owner of Urban Animal Veterinary Hospital in Houston, Texas, creating a veterinary practice that values diversity and inclusion was important, especially since she faced discrimination in the past.

“Approximately 30% of our clients are part of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as several of our staff,” says Granson, who identifies as gender nonconforming. “I opened my practice four years ago and wanted to promote a spirit of inclusiveness where all people and pets feel welcome and valued.”

On the practice’s website, a simple diversity and Americans with Disabilities Act statement reflects the practice’s commitment to maintaining a welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ clients and their pets.

“We don’t care about what you look like, your gender, whom you choose to love, or how you choose to express yourself. We also don’t discriminate on whether you’re intact, spayed, or neutered or whether you walk on two legs, four, or require assistance. Urban Animal respects the uniqueness of anyone who comes into our hospital. When you’re here, we want you to feel right at home.”

Historically, many LGBTQIA+ people have faced discrimination and stigmatization because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Building an inclusive veterinary practice means creating an environment where discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community isn’t tolerated. Treating all customers with compassion and respect isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also critical in maintaining customer satisfaction and creating loyal, lifelong clients.

Today, many companies work to get a perfect score on the “Corporate Equality Index” issued each year by the Human Rights Campaign (hrc.org), the nation’s leading LGBTQIA+ rights organization. The Equality Index rates workplaces on their efforts to build an LGBTQIA+ inclusive practice.

Erica Anderson, DVM, (right) and Kevin Haywood, CVPM, of Jet City Animal Clinic in Seattle, Washington, put a high value on inclusivity.

“The easiest way to learn info about a client is to share your own information by saying something like, ‘I’m Dr. Anderson and I go by she/her pronouns.’”—Erica Anderson, DVM

Chances are, your veterinary practice already has clients who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning, transgender, intersex, asexual, or a range of other noncisgender or nonconforming identities. A Gallup poll released in February reported that 5.6% of Americans (an estimated 18 million adults) identify as LGBTQIA+, and a 2007 online poll from Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications—a leading LGBTQIA+ marketing firm—found that 7 out of 10 (71%) LGBTQIA+ adults own pets compared with 63% of heterosexual adults. In addition, 90% of LGBTQIA+ pet owners say their pet is a member of their family.

If you’re looking to build inclusivity into your practice and make it a welcoming place for all clients, here are some ideas to get started.

Show Visual Signs of Being LGBTQIA+ Friendly

In addition to the diversity statement on her website, Granson has a rainbow sticker in the window of her practice to denote support for the LGBTQIA+ community and to indicate that all identities are welcomed.

Signage is a simple way to provide visual clues that your veterinary practice is a safe place. Granson has also seen veterinary staff place rainbow stickers on their employee badges.

Dane Whitaker, DVM, MVPM, a relief veterinarian in the San Francisco Bay Area and president of Pride Veterinary Medical Community (PrideVMC, formerly the Lesbian and Gay VMA), says he has straight colleagues who serve as LGBTQIA+ allies and wear a rainbow bracelet or mask to show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community. In doing so, he says they also signal to clients that their practice is a safe and inclusive space. Including language such as “all are welcome” on your website, Facebook page, and even receipts is another way to let current and potential clients know that your practice is inclusive.

Hilary Granson, DVM, owner of Urban Animal Veterinary Hospital in Houston, Texas

Customize Intake Forms and Personalize Care

At the Jet City Animal Clinic in Seattle, Washington, owner Erica Anderson, DVM, and practice manager Kevin Haywood, CVPM, who both identify as gay, have customized their client intake forms and employment applications to reflect the diversity of their employees and clients.

“50% of our clients identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Anderson says. “We’ve changed our intake forms to be more inclusive and now ask for the pet guardian’s info and that of their spouse or partner, rather than asking for names of the husband and wife.”

When entering an exam room with a new patient, Anderson introduces herself to the client and asks their name, how they would like to be addressed, and their pronouns. She also avoids making assumptions about a client’s gender or their relationship to any family members who accompany them to their appointment.

“I use inclusive language and avoid the use of pronouns that assume a person’s gender,” Anderson says. “The easiest way to learn info about a client is to share your own information by saying something like, ‘I’m Dr. Anderson and I go by she/her pronouns.’”

By introducing herself first, Anderson says it helps to set the stage and creates an atmosphere of inclusivity and acceptance.

At Urban Animal in Houston, Granson adheres to the same principles and says that when her practice sends emails to clients, they use the term “folks” rather than “ladies and gentlemen.”

“Relationships look very different today than they did years ago,” Granson says. “Many couples, gay and straight, are choosing to be in long-term relationships without getting married, so, if I’m not sure of their relationship, I’ll address them by their first name rather than Mr. or Mrs.”

Become Aware of LGBTQIA+ Terminology

Whitaker, who identifies as a transgender man, says PrideVMC works to create a better world for the LGBTQIA+ community, and their membership is also open to allies who want to support their LGBTQIA+ colleagues. Since 1992, the organization has “created community while advocating for LGBTQIA+ veterinarians, vet students, technicians, and clients.” The organization originally came about in 1977, when a group of gay veterinarians met at a dinner party during the American Veterinary Medical Conference and talked about starting a group for gay vets.

“We’re working on a toolkit to help veterinary practices become more inclusive,” Whitaker says. “In the interim, we have a lot of resources on our website, pridevmc.org, that can help vet staff with LGBTQIA+ terminology (definitions for cisgender, nonbinary, pansexual, etc.) as well as resources on how to be an ally to the community.”

Whitaker says PrideVMC recently started selling stethoscope pronoun clips on their site. The student-manufactured clips can be attached to a stethoscope to show clients your pronouns and to encourage more inclusivity in the workplace.

Aaron Losey, practice manager of Companion Animal Medical Centre in Ohio.

“Regardless of who our clients are, we want them to feel respected and to ensure their pets are healthy and well.”
—Aaron Losey, practice manager

Consider Diversity and Inclusion Training

If you believe your staff could benefit from training to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community and what it means to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, a number of organizations offer webinars and online courses.
The AVMA offers the Brave Space certificate program, a self-paced interactive course that teaches veterinary staff how to recognize and value individual differences. They also offer webinars on diversity, marginalization, intersectionality, and more at avma.org.

The Alliance for Full Acceptance (affa-sc.org) offers a video library as well as LGBTQIA+-competency training to meet the unique goals of your practice.

In addition, Hill’s Pet Nutrition USA (hillsnorthamerica.com) offers a free webinar, Understanding the LGBTQ Community and Their Challenges and Making the Environment Friendly. The webinar offers ideas on how to make a veterinary practice more supportive.

Become an Ally Through Community Outreach

At Companion Animal Medical Centre in Milford, Ohio, Gwendolyn Steffan, DVM, makes it clear on her website that she’s an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community, noting that her practice is open to all pet owners and that none will be judged.

“Regardless of who our clients are, we want them to feel respected and to ensure their pets are healthy and well,” says practice manager Aaron Losey. Also, as part of the employee orientation, new hires are educated about the importance of inclusivity in the workplace and how to take a thoughtful and deliberate approach when speaking to clients.

Losey, who is gay, says the practice is also active in the LGBTQIA+ community. They sponsor a booth each year at the Cincinnati Pride Parade, where new clients can learn about both the practice and the traditional and holistic pet care they offer.

As the result of their community outreach and commitment to creating a welcoming environment for all clients, Losey says their practice has built a loyal customer following. Additionally, many of their new clients come from word-of-mouth referrals.

“From the moment clients walk into our office, they see our cat and dog rainbow murals and the rainbow flag decal on our door,” Losey says. “We believe in maintaining a safe space for both our clients and employees who are in the LGBTQIA+ community and supporting antidiscrimination policies.”

Advertise with and Support the Community

Before potential clients walk through your door, how do you let them know your veterinary practice is LGBTQIA+ friendly? When Granson opened her veterinary practice in Houston four years ago, she also became involved with the local LGBTQIA+ community.

During Pride Week, staff participates in the city’s Pride Parade and pets are given rainbow bandanas while their owners enjoy hors d’oeuvres and colorful beverages. In addition to participating in community events, Whitaker says many veterinarians advertise their practices on the GayYellowPages.com or GayPinkSpots.com. PrideVMC is also working on a listing for veterinarians who identify as LGBTQIA+ or who are allies.

Anderson’s office also participates in Pride Month activities in Seattle and belongs to the Seattle Greater Business Association. Haywood notes their practice has a community outreach section on their website, where they show the monthly and ongoing events and outreach activities they’re involved with.

“We work with a local HIV community organization and provide complimentary care to the residents’ pets,” Anderson says. “With every client, I try to tap into our similarities and common goals, because at the end of the day, we’re all people who love our pets.”

Show Your Support

Stickers and signage for your practice can be obtained from the following nonprofits:

  • The Welcoming Project, a nonprofit that began in 2011 to make the LGBTQIA+ community feel welcome as patrons, offers an “All Are Welcome” a static window cling of a rainbow flag for a donation.
  • The True Colors Fund sells a Safe Space rainbow sticker that reads, “Diverse, inclusive, accepting, welcoming, safe space for everyone.”
  • The Open to All Campaign works to uphold the belief that when a business opens its doors to the public, it’s Open to All. Businesses sign a voluntary pledge and obtain an “Open to All” window cling for a donation.
Linda Childers
Linda Childers is a freelance writer whose work has been published in the Washington Post, AARP, The Rheumatologist, Allure, Arthritis Today, AKC Family Dog, and other national media outlets.

 

Photo credits: mbolina/iStock via Getty Images Plus, photo courtesy of Kevin Haywood, photo courtesy of Hilary Granson, Photo courtesy of Aaron Losey

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