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Shedding Light on 'Invisible Women'

July 05, 1999

Jane E. Allen's story "Invisible Women" (June 21) is by far the most comprehensive article ever to address the specific concerns of lesbians in the health-care profession. Thank you for shedding light on the discrimination many lesbians experience when accessing care from homophobic health care providers.

The sidebar focusing on how doctors and their office staff can be more sensitive and provide better service to their patients by not making assumptions offers constructive approaches for all health-care providers.

This article not only increases public understanding of lesbian and gay lives, it points the way to a more compassionate society in which every individual is valued and cared for without fear of prejudice or discrimination.

Once again, thank you for making a positive impact with your insightful article.

--GWENN A. BALDWIN

Executive director

L.A. Lesbian Gay & Lesbian Center

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I read with astonishment Rosemary Stephens' letter (June 28) regarding the article on "Invisible Women." Stephens argues that neither civil rights law nor the American Civil Liberties Union should concern itself with protection from "humiliation" (in this case, physicians denying care to lesbians).

Perhaps a history lesson is in order. Forty-four years ago, Rosa Parks--a woman who could no longer tolerate humiliation at the back of the bus--helped launch the war of freedom for millions. Unfortunately, it seems Stephens is not along for the ride.

There are countless other examples of humiliation that the civil rights laws helped to end, such as denial of public accommodations for blacks and interracial couples. It is hard to fathom how Stephens could label the denial of medical care a "frivolous" concern. Given her stated support of human rights for gays and lesbians, her analogy to a physician refusing to treat a patient who smokes (an absurd scenario) seems odd--does she mean to equate sexual orientation with physically harmful addiction?

Stephens might benefit from contacting the ACLU's member services department for some educational and historical materials.

--LAWRENCE C. CONN

Santa Monica

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I am appalled by the insensitivity and lack of professional behavior Dr. Ronald Axtell demonstrated in his treatment of Michelle DuPont. He seems to have missed something along the long path of becoming a doctor: His job is to help people seeking medical care, not to deny care based upon his approval or disapproval.

There are many patient behaviors for which physician disapproval is appropriate: tobacco use, excess alcohol, overeating, lack of exercise, refusal to wear seat belts, etc. However, referring a patient to another physician because of this disapproval would be ludicrous. There are also "lifestyles" that may cause a particular physician to "feel uncomfortable" yet would rarely result in such a suggestion to transfer care elsewhere (e.g. riding motorcycles, having tattoos, liking punk rock, even being an attorney!).

Long ago I heard a statistic: When something negative happens to a person, he or she shares it with 48 other people; when something positive happens, with only two. The bad experiences cited in this article are certainly appalling examples of inappropriate physician behavior, but I believe that most physicians, myself included, try very hard to be respectful and professional with all of our patients.

DR. ELIZABETH D. SIMMONS

Los Angeles

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