The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association has publicly decried the decision of the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine, a private medical school in California, to ban a student group that focuses on the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients and students.

In 2002, students at the school formed the Touro University Gay-Straight Alliance (TUGSA) with the mission of “promoting equitable health care delivery through awareness and education, and… representing diversity both on campus and in medicine.”

This month, Touro’s administration, citing the school’s Orthodox Jewish heritage, revoked the group’s charter and rescinded its funding, which had already been approved.

“This situation is reminiscent of the decision of New York Medical College to ban its LGBT student group in 2004 based on that school’s Roman Catholic heritage,” GLMA’s executive director, Joel Ginsberg, said.

“However, after long discussions, the NYMC administration recognized that the LGBT community continues to be marginalised in healthcare and reinstated the group.”

As a result of this situation, Mr Ginsberg said, the American Medical Association updated its policies to state that the AMA supports the right of medical students and residents to form groups and meet on-site to further their medical education or enhance patient care without regard to their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin or age.

Bryan Hopping, a second-year medical student at Touro, said he was disturbed by how “out of touch” the Touro’s administration is because he sees the students and faculty as “overwhelmingly supportive.

“I’ve been really touched by conservative students who have come up to me and said, ‘this club has made me aware of my own homophobia – thank you,'” Hopping said in a media release issued Monday.

The Healthy People 2010 Companion Document on LGBT Health, commissioned by the US Department of Health and Human Services, documents a number of health disparities experienced by LGBT persons as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Mr Ginsberg, many of these disparities are associated with the fear or outright discrimination LGBT persons experience when they reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity to their healthcare providers.

“The LGBT community has a unique set of health issues that young doctors-to-be need to know about, so that LGBT people get the care they’re entitled to, just like any other group,” Hopping’s statement continued.

Mr Ginsberg says that one of the major goals of the 25th anniversary conference to be held in San Francisco October 11-14, entitled ‘Bringing LGBT Healthcare into the Mainstream,’ is to counter the false notion that LGBT health is an exotic area of health. He adds that all physicians encounter LGBT patients in their practices and need to know how to care for them as for all their patients.

“Modelling discriminatory attitudes in medical education perpetuates fear and discrimination against LGBT people generally and undermines the health of LGBT patients,” Mr Ginsberg says.

“We hope that the administration at Touro University – which states that its ‘values involve a commitment to social justice, intellectual pursuit, and service to humanity’ – will discuss this very serious issue with us.

“In the meantime, we continue to explore other ways of raising awareness about this issue in the hopes that these students will eventually get the learning environment they need and deserve.”

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