This week marks the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Awareness Week, and local medical students and faculty are getting involved.
Starting today, GHSU Equality, a student-run organization, and the American Medical Student Association will put on a week of events focused on awareness and community.
Dubbed “Come Out For Health,” the week will begin with a “Lunch-n-Learn” panel discussion to raise awareness for health-related issues facing the LGBT community.
Gareth Fenley, a staff member of the Psychiatry Department at Georgia Health Sciences University’s Medical College of Georgia and member of GHSU Equality, is on the panel today and will speak about her health care experiences as a patient, specifically as a lesbian.
“The first step is to be aware,” she said. “But also, we need to be knowledgeable about the different health issues people face.”
Justin Neisler, a co-president and one of the founders of GHSU Equality, said the week is a chance for Augustans inside and outside the LGBT community to come together and show support.
Neisler, 24, is a first-year medical student at MCG. He said after applying to medical schools across the country for two years, he was disappointed when he was only accepted to MCG because unlike Atlanta, where he was working after completing undergraduate college, he thought there would not be an LGBT community.
“It wasn’t as bad as I had thought,” Neisler said about moving to Augusta and attending the medical school. “It was more about the perception I had about it before I moved here; that’s what we need to change.”
When he got to MCG, Neisler immediately helped start GHSU Equality. Although the group is not associated with the school, it is made up of GHSU students and faculty.
He said he quickly realized there are pockets of supporters around Augusta and within the schools and that they just needed to be brought together.
Fenley, who also moved from Atlanta, said she believes events like this week’s panel can promote a well-developed LGBT community in Augusta. Since moving here five years ago, she has seen the creation of the Augusta Pride parade and has seen more and more people become involved.
“When I moved here, there were a few bars and that’s about it,” she said. “We are heading in a positive direction.”
The rest of the week will focus on different aspects of awareness, including sharing and celebrating it.
Neisler hopes eventually to have pamphlets with GSHU Equality information included in information packets given to students accepted to MCG so LGBT students would be aware there is a community in which to get involved.
“I was probably the first openly gay person anyone in my class has known,” Neisler said. “We need to make sure gay people feel it’s safe and accepting to come here. That’s the goal.”