Vital Times 2020 - 76

JUSTICE, EQUITY,
DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION

Why Mentorship, Allies, and
Synergy Matter: Perspectives
From a LGBTQ + LatinX
Anesthesiologist
Antonio Hernandez Conte, MD, MBA, FASA

A

s long as I can
remember, I knew
that I was gay - I am
not one of those people
who was ever able " pass
as straight. " My ethnic
background and cultural
heritage is quite complex
so suffice it to say it is
often hard to determine where my obstacles and
barriers occur, and opportunities exist. I was born
in Ethiopia to a Mexican-American father (who was
in the U.S. military) and an Ethiopian-Italian mother
whose family had fled Italy during Mussolini's fascist
rule. I had full Ethiopian citizenship until I was
naturalized with my mother when we came to the
United States. I am a by-product of a multi-cultural
heritage embedded in a military family that traveled
around the world, and I grew up speaking three
languages. Ironically, I always simply considered
myself " American " when I lived overseas on military
bases. However, back in the United States, the answer
was less clear. It has never been easy for me to simply
" check the box " that defines my ethnicity or race; and
sexual orientation was never even a checkbox that
was available until fairly recently.

76 |

CSA Vital Times

Isolation. As a medical student in Boston from

1987 to 1991, I experienced overt homophobia and
racism. It was prevalent within my medical school
and affiliated hospitals, as well as the local Boston
environment. There were very few people from underrepresented groups in my class, and I was also the
only openly gay man. Needless to say, my medical
school experience was not optimal. I had no mentors,
no role models, no one to support me - I felt alone,
isolated, and abandoned. I was often the target of
outright aggression by physicians and staff with no
pretense of civility. Many of my classmates who were
Black and Latinx really struggled as well -- only three
of the seven of us graduated on time.

Mentors. When I arrived at Yale for my anesthesia

residency in 1992, I was really hoping history would
not repeat itself, and would be different from my
medical school experience. From the onset, things
seemed different at Yale. The anesthesia faculty
was extremely friendly - they encouraged us to
call them by their first names, they asked questions
about our family, our spouses, and our " significant
others. " That struck me as odd that they would even
think to word it in those terms. Initially, I thought this
must just be a fa├žade of kindness, but it was truly
genuine. I soon learned that our Chairman, Dr. Paul
Barash, was extremely intentional in his words and
his actions. He sought ways to identify the unique



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