The deal with gay dentists (more accurately, gay d-school applicants/students)

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A previous post in the SDN Pre-Dental forum entitled, "What's the deal with gay dentists?", whether written by a "troll" or not, was insensitive enough to bring me out of "lurking" status here on SDN. This post is intended to educate any interested parties on the additional struggles that GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) folks might endure in their lives and in applying to dental school, on top of the normal pressures all applicants face. I will try to make this as concise as possible.

By the way, I was very impressed with the responses from some of you Pre-Dental forum SDN members to the "What's the deal with gay dentists?” post.

First, please think about possible issues the GLBT applicant dealt with before applying to dental school. GLBT people normally recognize that they are GLBT early in adolescence - usually around age 12 or 13. At this stage, many begin feeling self-hatred and shame, perhaps because of religious or cultural conflicts. These feelings often lead to severe depression and even suicide (my husband of over three years, who was a member of the LDS church, can tell you all about this). In fact, recent research has provided evidence that GLBT youth attempt suicide at a rate 2-3 times higher than their heterosexual peers do. Some studies indicate that the rate of attempted suicide for transgender youth is higher than 50%. (Source: http://www.unhcc.unh.edu/resources/glbt/glbtsuicide.html )

Next, take a moment to think about what the GLBT applicant went through when disclosing their sexual preferences, or "coming out," to friends. Even more frightening, imagine what is like for the GLBT applicant to come out to parents, especially parents who are not accepting of GLBT people. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in collaboration with the National Coalition for the Homeless, 42 percent of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth are GLBT. Next time you judge a GLBT dental school applicant/dental student/dentist, or any GLBT person for that matter, simply because they are GLBT, just remember that they may have been kicked out their home early on simply for identifying as GLBT. Caution…rhetorical question ahead: Did your parents ever kick you out of your house because of one of your innate, unchangeable characteristics, such as your being left-handed, green-eyed, or brown-haired?

If kids are mean in elementary and junior high school, kids in high school are brutal. High school is hard enough when one is trying to earn good grades, be accepted to a good university, do community service, and fit in socially. Now add coming out as GLBT to the mix. I certainly did not advertise that I was gay, but I was honest when people asked. My attempt to be honest with my peers and myself led to daily harassment, ridicule, name-calling (I got accustomed to being called "[email protected]" [sic] 5 or 10 times a day) - I was beat up twice, one of the times pretty seriously. Why? Because I am gay. Please don't think that this was an isolated incident. A 1999 survey by the Gay Lesbian & Straight Educational Network (GLSEN) of GLBT youth reported the following statistics: 91% sometimes or frequently hear anti-gay comments such as '[email protected]' [sic] and '****' in school; 61% report verbal harassment; of those who reported verbal harassment, 46% reported that the experienced it daily; 47% report sexual harassment; 28% report being physically attacked; 38% did not feel comfortable speaking to school staff about GLBT issues; and 58% say that they do not feel safe in school. Because of persistent abuse, as many as 28% of GLBT youth eventually drop out of school (Source: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/iag/oppression.htm ). So next time you meet a GLBT dental school applicant/dental student/dentist, or any other gay person who has pursued post-secondary college education, congratulate him/her for getting to where he/she is, considering the many barriers that may have stood in his/her way.

The GLBT dental school applicant has to ask himself/herself many questions that a straight applicant might not in applying to dental school.
  • Will the fact that dentistry is considered a “conservative" profession hold me back in my dental education or career?
  • Where can I find resources for GLBT people interested in dentistry? (Just to illustrate what I mean here, please try this: Without quotation marks, Google “gay doctor.” Now try “gay dentist.” Needless to say, there is much more out there for GLBT folks interested in medicine. The one and only journal article on GLBT issues in dental education that I have found particularly helpful can be found at http://www.jdentaled.org/cgi/content/full/68/6/623 ).
  • Whom can I contact from dental schools to ask more about GLBT issues in dental education and dentistry? (Only one dental school that I know of, Tufts, has a contact for GLBT persons).
  • Should I be "out" in my personal statement? (This is a biggie. I chose to be out, but only after months of deliberation).
  • Should I send a copy of my personal statement, if I am “out in it,” to the people writing my letters of recommendation if they don’t know I am GLBT? (I sent “out” versions and “non-out" versions to my letter writers, depending on the situation)
  • Will being out in my personal statement alienate people on admissions committees? (I tend to think it might at certain institutions, but I will not name names).
  • Do I have the courage to talk about being GLBT in my interview? (And if the GLBT applicant is "out" in his or her personal statement, you can bet it will come up in the interview. I speak from experience).
  • Should I list college GLBT organizations or activities I participated in on my AADSAS or secondary applications? (Even if president of a GLBT student organization, an applicant might choose not to include this activity out of fear).
  • For my secondary applications, should I send this personal check with both my name and my (same-sex) partner's name on it?
  • Will I be the only gay dental student in my class or at my university?
  • Are there any GLBT student organizations at the schools to which I am applying?
  • Are there any GLBT or "ally" faculty or staff members that might be able to offer advice?
  • How do I find openly GLBT dentists in my community so that I may job shadow, look up to them as a mentor, or ask questions? (Let me be the first to tell you that this is not an easy task).
The point of me listing these questions (and this is not, by any means, an all-inclusive list) is to show that GLBT applicants must ask themselves many questions and make many decisions that a straight applicant might not have to. I realize that all applicants must make important decisions in the application process, but in the context of "conservative" dentistry (as pointed out in the Journal of Dental Education article listed above), GLBT applicants often have to consider more complex and larger numbers of issues.

I have not exactly elucidated the “deal with gay dentists,” but I hope this is a satisfactory account of my experiences as a GLBT dental school applicant/dental student.

For anyone interested in further reading about dentistry, dental education, and more on my experiences as a GLBT dental school applicant and dental student, please check out my blog at http://www.gaydentalstudent.com . It is still under development, but please check back periodically if you are interested, or contact (PM) me if you are interested in contributing “blog” articles.

Thanks to those who read this!


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I'll be honest with you. Sugar respects hetero and homosexual dental students. She probably wouldn't even know the diff. if you didn't tell her. That said, Im not so sure this post has a place here. I don't think gays would have it harder than straights when it comes to applying to dental school or considering their profession. All else is equal except I'm a girl that likes boys and you are a boy that likes boys. THAT's IT! No one should be making excuses or thinking they had it so much harder bc of sexual orientation. That sounds sort of silly. Maybe others disagree.
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