By Wendy Sarubbi | March 26, 2014 10:13 am

“When did you decide your gender?”

With that thought-provoking question,  guest speaker Dr. Steve Yacovelli opened the topic of gender diversity at the College of Medicine’s March 18 Lunch & Learn about promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion.

The event, the second in a yearlong series, is designed to help faculty, staff and students communicate and engage better in an increasingly diverse world.

Yacovelli, a Central Florida consultant who works with companies to increase their culture of inclusion, led the Lunch & Learn with Gina Duncan, a diversity and inclusion trainer who is a transgender woman. They explained that gender identity has broadened beyond traditional male-female roles based on biology.

Duncan illustrated gender identity, expression, biological sex and sexual orientation, with the help of the “Genderbread Man,” a graphic depicting the range of traits individuals present. Biological sex reflects objectively measured chromosomes, organs and hormones that determine biologically if you are male or female. Gender identity is how you think about yourself. Gender expression is how you demonstrate your gender through behaviors, dress and interactions. Sexual orientation is the sex to whom you are physically and emotionally attracted.  “Even though we are made up of all these different components, gender is a pervasive element of who we are,” said Duncan, who was born Greg Pinkston, and lived 50 years of her life as a man before beginning her transition.  “Even though it’s so strong and important, we don’t even think about it. Unless you’re transgender, and then you think about it every day.”

As the world becomes more diverse, so must the awareness of healthcare professionals, who must be sensitive to the unique healthcare needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients, Duncan and Yacovelli said. Physicians must also be sensitive to patients who consider themselves gender neutral or gender queer, not subscribing to conventional gender distinctions.

Changes such as more gender-inclusive patient intake forms and judgment-free conversations in the doctor’s exam room can help foster a more honest and effective relationship with diverse patients, they said. Human resources policies and publications that are sensitive to employees considering a  transgender journey can help create a more inclusive culture, said Duncan, who began her transition while working at a major banking corporation.

“One of the biggest fears of the transgender community is social isolation,” she said. “Yes, there will be mistakes made, but engage, ask questions, be open, and help the community help themselves in normalizing their existence. The entire community is running to catch up in reference to understanding the transgender world. We are working very diligently to have the medical community and workplace environments to increase understanding and awareness.”

Yacovelli explained that a university culture focused on promoting knowledge  provides an ideal place to promote inclusion, especially around issues where many people have questions or uncertainties. “A culture that embraces open-mindedness… is a fantastic opportunity,” he said.

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