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Meet the Gay Combat Vet Who Will Run the American Medical Association

Meet the Gay Combat Vet Who Will Run the American Medical Association

Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld
Photo by Ted Grudzinski

Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld on LGBTQ+ health and his plans to protect trans and queer youth.

Mid-March was the annual LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week, designated by the National Coalition for LGBTQ+ Health. The week, according to organization, is “intended to help the healthcare community advocate for reducing barriers to LGBTQ persons by creating and maintaining safe, inclusive, and welcoming environments — and ensuring quality, accessible, and non-discriminatory health care.”

However, for the incoming president of the American Medical Association — who will be the first queer person to head the 176-year-old organization — health awareness among members of our community should stretch beyond one week.

“At present, we have so many health issues affecting our community, particularly among our trans youth, so it’s more important than ever to be vigilant,” said Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, who will become the AMA president in June, after being elected during the AMA’s Annual Meeting last summer. As the nation's preeminent professional organization of doctors and medical students, the AMA lobbies for its 270,000+ members and promotes "the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health."

Ehrenfeld is currently a senior associate dean and a tenured professor of anesthesiology and director of Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He was elected to the AMA’s Board of Trustees in 2014. He is also a combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan during both Operation Enduring Freedom and Resolute Support Mission.

In a wide-ranging interview about health issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, Ehrenfeld vowed to continue his fight for LGBTQ+ health equity, which he described as “a cause very close to my heart. I’ve been advocating on behalf of the community for over 20 years and am proud to have founded the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Program for LGBTQ+ Health, which offers education and training to healthcare providers on LGBTQ-specific health concerns.”

In 2018, in recognition of his outstanding research contributions, Ehrenfeld received the inaugural Sexual and Gender Minority Research Investigator Award from the director of the National Institutes of Health.

One question that continues to circulate among the community is if we should still be worried about mpox?

“As of mid-March, the CDC is averaging about one case a day, and that compares to mid-August of last year when they were seeing 450 cases a day,” Ehrenfeld pointed out. “But we need to be cautious here, since the low figures are during months where most of us are inside or not as active.”

He added, “We know that spring and summer will bring events, festivals, parties — so we may see some more community outbreaks. The best thing anyone can do who feels they might be at risk is to make sure to be vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and effective, so if you’re at high risk, make sure to get one. Overall, we still need to continue to monitor the spread of [mpox] and work to prevent any possible additional transmission.”

In previous articles for The Advocate, Dr. Anthony Fauci has talked about the possible future of injectables as a treatment for HIV patients, and Ehrenfeld said that he and the AMA are deeply committed to stopping the spread of HIV.

Dr. Ehrenfeld

“Long-acting therapies will become an important tool for HIV treatment, and some are already receiving once a month treatment through injectables. But more work needs to be done — not only in finding a cure and finding better treatment options, but also to make sure that marginalized communities are receiving the proper care, and that members of these communities are getting screened for HIV on a regular basis.”

Ehrenfeld suggested that at the very least people should be getting tested once a year. “We must continue to invest in research and public education to ensure that HIV treatment is accessible and affordable to everyone who needs it.”

“And one other thing that we still need to do is to help get rid of the stigma that still exists behind the disease,” he added. “It’s so important to remember that HIV is not limited to any group of people, and the stigma that remains is an unfortunate part of its legacy. We need to do all we can to fight it.”

Another matter that is critical to confront is the assault, by state governments, on the health of trans youth.

“It is imperative that we expand, not contract, care for trans youth,” Ehrenfeld implored. “We have to reassess how we improve the quality of healthcare for trans youth and adults in the face of government intrusion into the practice of medicine.”

Ehrenfeld also said that it’s a long-standing position of the AMA to oppose any laws that limit access to medically necessary care and restrict the ability of health care professionals to care for their patients. “In the past, the AMA has also called on lawmakers to recognize the rights of patients to make their own informed decisions about their own health care needs.”

Ehrenfeld said instead of being singled out, “Transgender youth should be celebrated and embraced for their strength and courage in being their true selves. People don’t realize how much bravery that takes. They should not be ostracized or be shamed for who they are and who they feel like they should be. Our transgender youth need our support more than ever, and they need our understanding, compassion, and acceptance so that they can reach their full potential.”

Some other priorities of Ehrenfeld’s are LGBTQ+ youth and mental health. “LGBTQ+ youth face unique challenges for mental health, and more must be done to ensure that they have access to the care and support they need. We also need to better understand the mental health challenges for trans, nonbinary, and queer youth who are more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. It’s a problem and we need to correct it.”

“We also need to reduce the stigma around mental health. These are all top priorities for the AMA and will be for me once I become president in June.”

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