SF General joins
LGBT video campaign
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center this week became the first Bay Area medical center to unveil a video for the It Gets Better project aimed at LGBT youth struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
With the release of the 11-minute video, which was posted to YouTube Tuesday, July 24, the staffers at the Mission-based health care facility became the latest group of colleagues at a local workplace to take part in the two-year-old campaign.
Last summer employees at the Exploratorium science museum released their own video, and in February, members of the San Francisco Police Department uploaded their taped message about being out law enforcement officers.
It was the police video that served as a motivation for Kathryn Fowler, 51, an out lesbian and a nurse manager in SF General's emergency room, to seek permission from hospital administrators to join the campaign. She then recruited LGBT colleagues who would be willing to share their coming out stories in such a public manner.
"Back when I was growing up we didn't have anything like this. It is thrilling to know there are now more resources for young people," said Fowler, who lives in San Francisco and has worked at SF General for 11 years.
The hospital's video features a multi-ethnic group of employees, some of whom are straight, repeating the campaign's mantra of "It gets better." Spliced throughout are excerpts of more in-depth interviews with individual out employees.
Those featured include Nate Sharon, who transitioned from female to male while in medical school and recently finished his residency at SF General; psychologist Lee Rawitscher, who has been with his husband for 12 years and is raising a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter; and nurse Audrey Smith, an out lesbian who began working at the hospital three years ago.
"I've had my own struggles with the topic," said Smith, 25, who grew up in Berkeley and lives in Albany. "It felt good to share my story."
Since the project launched in 2010, created by Seattle-based sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage, it has taken on a life of its own. People gay and straight from around the world, whether politicians, sports figures, actors, musicians, or ordinary citizens, have produced their own It Gets Better videos.
There are now more than 2,500 videos that have been uploaded to the campaign's page on YouTube. Last year a book related to the campaign was published.
The success of the effort has also produced a bit of a backlash, with some LGBT youth questioning its effectiveness. Other critics have noted that accounts of LGBT youth committing suicide continue to generate headlines.
Backers of the project counter that the videos offer hope to not just youth but LGBT people of all ages who feel alone, isolated or unjustly treated.
"I think there are those it can help, definitely," said Smith. "We made it for them."
Administrators and staffers at the public hospital are hoping their video will not only reach youth but also a far larger audience. It wants to let patients of any age know that they can be out to their doctors, nurses, and other staffers at SF General.
During a screening of the video held Tuesday afternoon for hospital employees, one staffer in the audience noted how a recent female cancer patient was reluctant at first to acknowledge a woman she initially identified as a blood relative was really her life partner.
"People don't know it is safe to bring their partner with them to the hospital," said the employee after seeing the video.
Hospital administrators see the video as a way to alert the public that SF General values the diversity of its staff and patients. For the last two years the medical center has been rated a leader in LGBT health care among the nation's hospitals by the Human Rights Campaign in its health care equality index annual report.
The hospital scored well for adopting policies that protect patients and employees from discrimination, having equal visitation rights for same-sex couples and parents, and training its staff on LGBT patient-centered care. SF General has been a leader in LGBT health care since the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
Dr. Sue Carlyle, who was named vice dean of the hospital this month, called the video "fabulous" and said it ties in to SF General's approach to patient care.
"Our real mission is to provide excellent health care with compassion and respect," said Carlyle, who is also a professor of medicine and professor of clinical anesthesia at UCSF, which jointly operates the hospital with the city.
Barbara Garcia, the out lesbian who is head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which oversees the hospital, was also pleased that the video had been made.
"That's great," she said last week when told the video would be unveiled.
Within less than 24 hours of being posted online the video had been watched nearly 2,000 times. It can be seen at http://youtu.be/LylPucCmbLM