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Though born in the far northern realm of Maine, I was an early transplant to the South. My family settled in Georgia when I was four years old, and my entire education has taken place here: kindergarten through high school, then on to college, and now medical school. I received a fantastic education, though not without its eccentricities (for example, learning about the “War of Northern Aggression”). Even though Georgia is not regarded as a bastion of acceptance, I had a relatively uneventful coming out. Support from my friends and family bolstered me as I began to openly live as a gay man, and I began to connect with a robust, vibrant, and very much present LGBTQ community.

The Equality Clinic on the march!
The Equality Clinic on the march!

Throughout college, I wasn’t alone in my ultimate goal to escape Georgia and the South. Many of my friends had their eyes on the West Coast, and when we graduated, they jetted off… but I stayed to study medicine in Augusta, Georgia. My unexpected appreciation for the Southern LGBTQ community was reinforced as I entered medical school.

I began volunteering in a free LGBTQ clinic, and I was astounded by the enormous and diverse population, full of character and resilience. Old and young, cis and trans, heterosexual to pansexual—the rainbow spectrum is really too two-dimensional to adequately represent the array of patients we served. I saw patients from across Georgia and neighboring states, many of whom came from rural communities where they had lived all their lives. Every misconception I’ve ever heard about the LGBTQ populace in the South could be shattered simply by witnessing one night at our clinic.

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Now I’m in my third year of medical school. For the past six months, I’ve been traveling across Georgia as I rotate through the different specialties of medicine. During this whirlwind tour of the deep South, a strange transition began to take place. I started considering staying in the South. I’ve daydreamed about opening my own clinic and caring for all patients who walk through the doors, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. I was surprised to realize that I’d been won over by what had become my home. I like to jokingly say that I’ve been Stockholm Syndromed by the South.

I attribute my change of heart to all the people I’ve encountered, including the multitude of heterosexual, cis-gendered patients and medical staff. My experience has led me to believe that people are genuinely good, and malice is generally the byproduct of ignorance or fear. Fear of the unknown can be a formidable force, and I think it’s the primary culprit in the South’s homophobia. I say this because the people I’ve met across Georgia have been decent and honest, and I want to make it my life’s work to take care of them.

This post is written by Janssen Therapeutics Point Scholar Kevin Robertson

Robertson-Kevin During his medical education, Kevin Robertson worked to advance the health of the LGBTQ community in Augusta, Georgia. Along with a group of his medical student peers, he helped establish the Equality Clinic of Augusta, an LGBTQ-focused free clinic. He has served a number of roles in the clinic–first as a student coordinator and webmaster to the clinic’s website and later as a member of the clinic’s nonprofit board of directors. A particular focus of his has been HIV awareness and prevention, and he established opt-out rapid HIV screening for the clinic’s patients as well as offering pre-exposure prophylaxis.

Read more about Kevin.

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