‘It’s OK to be gay in medicine’: Q-Connect to partner with Queer Straight Alliance

‘It’s OK to be gay in medicine’: Q-Connect to partner with Queer Straight Alliance

Read in The Daily Tar Heel 10/7/2019

When Joseph Nickel was a student at UNC, he was involved in several public service organizations on campus, but none fully prioritized the community he cares for most — LGBTQ+ youth.

So, he created his own. 

Now two years old, Q-Connect and OUTreach is a group that focuses on providing identity affirming resources to LGBTQ+ youth. It was approved as an official university public service organization in spring 2019. Q-Connect’s goal is to provide assistance and quality information to students with a variety of sexual orientations and gender expressions. 

Nickel, who graduated last year, has also chosen to stay in the area to help establish the group under new leadership. 

Nickel said he saw a blank space in the accessibility of LGBTQ+-relevant sex education in North Carolina schools and was struck by the traumatic effects that conversion therapy programs have had on his peers. 

“I recognized that LGBT youth are one of the most vulnerable populations in my experience,” Nickel said. “And I wanted to make a difference for them.”

The group hopes to help mitigate the effects of bullying, low self-esteem and harassment for queer-identifying students. Their work extends both to local high school and college students. For many, Nickel says, it’s the only resources that they have to affirm their identity.

“Q-Connect was started to foster conversations about queer identity,” said Adam Ramsey, president of Q-Connect.

Change makers for LGBTQ+ health care

This October, Q-Connect will be collaborating with the Queer Straight Alliance, a program within the UNC School of Medicine, to increase health guidance for LGBTQ+ individuals on campus. Together, they will host a conversation with the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, covering a wide range of issues on LGBTQ+-positive culture and education. 

Co-president of QSA, Jean-Luc Banks, said he hopes the event will be a space for medical students to ask questions. His goal, Banks said, is to foster an environment that is inclusive of LGBTQ+-centric education, while recognizing LGBTQ+ patients and physicians. 

“I think that getting involved in medical school as future advocates for this population is necessary,” Nickel said. “They will be able to see the impact that it would have to have as an affirming health care provider — the impact that it would have on conversion therapy, the impact that it would have on affirming mental health support.”

The partnership is meant to be mutually beneficial, allowing medical students to also enhance their training. 

“Medical students — they are the change makers for LGBT youth and the LGBT population as health care goes,” Nickel said. “So I think that they can make a great impact for our students in addition to the future generations.”

‘With similar identities, we understand’

Distance is a factor that can limit Q-Connect’s outreach. Nickel said he recognizes the extreme need for LGBTQ+ positive resources in rural North Carolina areas. Many North Carolina high schools don’t have active gay-straight alliance, GSA, programs, and religiously-motivated conversion therapy continues to affect young people. 

Ramsey himself comes from a background without diverse or open discussions about sexuality. 

“I’m from a small town in North Carolina without those resources,” he said. “Having that information would have helped me kickstart myself.”

Ramsey said that his high school stripped the LGBTQ+ narrative from the curriculum. 

Still, the individual rewards of working with Q-Connect inspire Nickel and Ramsey to move forward, because Q-Connect is about bridging the gap between high school and college students who share a common LGBTQ+ experience. 

“It’s powerful because most of the students in our organization are LGBT-identifying,” Nickel said. “We know the experiences that are specific to this population so we can better help this population. It’s a really great perspective that we have. With similar identities, we understand, we can empathize with them.”

Looking forward

Nickel said he only sees the program growing from the joint QSA forum at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics to discuss sex education and gender sexuality affirming treatment protocols. 

“I want to get as many people involved as possible, no matter what identities they have,” Nickel said.  “In this organization, I think we are able to make a lot of great change. No matter what identity you have, we need you. We are looking to make changes for LGBT youth.” 

Now covering medical education, Ramsey and Nickel’s Q-Connect and OUTreach’s mentorship forecasts a more supportive future for LGBTQ+ students on campus and in nearby high schools. Because, as Banks said, science is advancing. 

“It’s OK to be gay in medicine,” he said. 

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