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Doctors Fight Homophobia With Name Change

October 11, 1994|SHARI ROAN | TIMES HEALTH WRITER

Benjamin Schatz hopes he will never again be asked to explain just what his organization stands for.

As of today, the American Assn. of Physicians for Human Rights will dump its ambiguous name in favor of a more descriptive one: the Gay and Lesbian Medical Assn.

The San Francisco-based group, which has more than 1,500 physician and medical student members, chose National Coming Out Day to make the announcement because "AAPHR finally comes out of the closet," says Dr. Robert Cabaj, president of the group.

"Our name has kept us hidden for the last 12 years or so," Cabaj says. "People in the know knew who we were. But I think we've learned that to fight the impact of homophobia on health care, we need to be much more open about who we really are. It should, hopefully, instill a new sense of pride in the members."

The decision did not come about easily, however. A preliminary ballot on changing the group's name taken last summer yielded a 178-125 vote in favor.

But during the group's annual meeting last month, a vote at a members' symposium produced only three votes against and 97 in favor, says Schatz, executive director of the association.

Care will be taken to protect members' identities--for example, mailings will still use the AAPHR title.

Still, the group's leaders expect a few member resignations and some public backlash.

Last year, when the group tried to run an advertisement recruiting members in a major medical journal, the publication turned it down. And that was under the old name.

"The mainstream medical organizations might feel uncomfortable about putting the words gay and lesbian in their advertisements," Cabaj acknowledges.

Officials also have concerns about their continued ability to raise funds to sponsor programs on HIV prevention, lesbian health issues and the prevention of gay teen suicide.

"The process of coming out as a group will be the same as with an individual: Will people like you? Will this hurt you financially? Will this limit your options?" Schatz says.

"I think a lot of other groups will be watching us to see how we weather the change," he says. "But it makes life easier to operate with self-respect."

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