On March 8, 2022, a month before SGIM’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, House Bill 1557 “The Parental Rights Educational Bill,” also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed. The bill prevents classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity, penalizes school districts, and is potentially costly to local school systems. The SGIM Planning Committee and SGIM leadership reached out to the LGBTQ Health Interest Group to help coordinate a response condemning this harmful legislation. After a flurry of e-mail communications, we quickly saw a small but powerful group interested in advocacy take the center stage at SGIM. We aim to share lessons learned from this experience to support other SGIM groups in their own advocacy work. In this current political environment, where state laws intend to impact the provider-patient relationship, these seven reflections may prove valuable in the future.
Prior relationships with advocacy groups, specifically “The Committee to Protect Healthcare,” proved critical. Their experience in advocacy during the 2020 presidential election and George Floyd protests were fruitful and allowed for logistical support, media connections, and expertise. They provided amazing ideas and helped to increase the footprint of the social media blast. The use of white coats, buttons, hashtags, and pride flags all resulted from their prior experience.
Lean on Expertise and Collaborate across SGIM
The members of the LGBTQ Health Interest Group, Health Equity Commission and Health Policy Commission communicated frequently via email and conference calls. New ideas quickly surfaced and together we leveraged our collective experience in advocacy and relationships across SGIM. Allowing fluid communication with leadership, SGIM administrative staff, and members was critical to share ideas, anticipate logistical challenges and ensure amplification of information through SGIM. This truly illuminated the tremendous powers across the ranks of SGIM.
Get SGIM Leadership Support Early
While the Planning Committee had already expressed support, we found it meaningful to include SGIM Council and executive leadership in our planning. Monica Lypson, then SGIM President, and Eric Bass, SGIM CEO, communicated directly with our team and made sure to call out our efforts. They and their teammates were tremendously thoughtful, provided us a location to set up a rally, supported communication to other members about our photo rally, and confirmed a spot within the SGIM Plenary to promote our efforts.
Use GIMConnect and Twitter to Spread the Word
Leading up to the meeting, multiple e-mail reminders went to SGIM members via GIMConnect. As conference attendees will know, this changed the feel of the meeting as people from across the country brought LGBTQ “swag” to Orlando. Twitter and its hashtags helped to drum up additional energy for the photo rally, both before and after the event.
Be Prepared, but Be Flexible
Having people aware of the event and having their LGBTQ buttons on was the first step. The plan for a photograph opportunity, and having SGIM photographer present, went off well. However, as the size of the group grew, it became clear that announcements and a chant would be helpful to the success and meaning of the event. We rapidly shifted approach and added aspects as the event unfolded.
Assign Roles, even for a Part that May Not Happen
While the core planning group was in regular communication, we did not have a clear understanding of who would do what. Reflecting, the event would have benefited from a clear division of labor, including someone to own the chant #Wesaygay and #Wesaytrans, and another person to formally talk with news media. While we did not expect these to happen, assigning roles “just in case” would have made us feel even more prepared. Nevertheless, one of our strengths was having multiple SGIM leaders involved.
Make Everyone Welcome, Particularly Trainees
The biggest success was its size, allowing everyone to feel welcome and truly magnifying the support with SGIM for this important event. The power of numbers was important to getting media attention and spots on the local channel 9 and nearby West Palm Beach.1 Most important, knowing that someone just being present as an ally was meaningful. As all SGIM members know, there is power in our trainees and making sure they were welcomed, included, and knew that the right hashtags increased the impact of the event.
In the end, we managed to get more than 200 members (close to 10 percent of the conference’s total registration) to join us outside for the photo opportunity. Though anxious about being interviewed by news media, we came together for a successful advocacy event. We reflect on one of the meeting’s amazing plenaries on the intersection of Public Health and Medicine, seeing a clear avenue for us as physicians into a usually murky policy realm. And, as Dr. Prothrow-Stith shared from the teachings of Rosa Parks, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” As state laws continue to impact marginalized populations and interfere with healthcare for our patients, we hope these reflections can help other SGIM members in their pursuit of what is right.