By: Gricel Martínez Ocasio*/TRT Publisher–
Charismatic, classy, candid and trustworthy. Visael Rodriguez, the Chief Diversity Officer of Baystate Health, is not only a loyal LGBT ally, but a man who speaks avidly about civil rights. His sound support is at times mistaken. People who listen to his words often think he belongs to the LGBT community. He does. Bobby, as many know him at Baystate Health, is one of the strongest allies that the LGBT community has in Western Massachusetts and his actions speak louder than his words. Such dedication is also representative of Baystate’s commitment to LGBT rights. Recently, the Human Rights Campaign, HRC, recognized 9 of Baystate’s health facilities as leaders in “LGBT Healthcare Equality.”
In this one-on-one interview with TRT, the Puerto Rican native and Baystate Officer shares his passion and commitment to the LGBT community and the origin of such a personal and professional pledge.
TRT/Gricel Martínez Ocasio: What motivates your work within this community?
Bobby Rodriguez: First and foremost, my motivation comes from my friend David. For a very long time, David was afraid to come out to me for fear of rejection. When I learned that, I couldn’t believe that someone would be so willing to bury who they are and their happiness than to lose their friends and family. I had a hard time believing that his fear of this had such a major impact on his life. Because of this, and combined with my work as a diversity practitioner, I strive to ensure that LGBT people are met with equality, respect, and inclusion.
TRT/GMO: What are the top three issues that affect our community the most?
BR: (1) Communication. The doors for communication should be opened so that we can continue to understand each other across the walls of our respective communities. (2) Representation. The LGBT community needs to continue to have an increased level of visible representation in leadership positions – organizationally, politically, socially, etc. (3) In-group competition. Like most communities, it seems that the LGBT community spends a great deal of time competing against one another rather than coming together for a common goal.
TRT/GMO: What is the best advice you have ever been given to do the proactive things you do today for our community?
BR: When I was growing up, my mother and my grandfather always encouraged me to understand the importance of differences. They always encouraged me to help those who didn’t have the advantages that I do and to treat people with respect. I carry those messages with me today as I encourage others to understand and value differences and always treat people as they want to be treated.
TRT/GMO: What have you done for the LGBT community individually or collectively that you are proudest of?
BR: I have opened the doors and facilitated the communication within Baystate Health for people to understand that the LGBT community is part of the communities that we serve, and is part of our business. As a result, I have seen great questions get asked, watched the dialogue grow and people learn, and participated in policy changes taking place. I’ve had the privilege of being part of a shift that has taken place within the organization to a place of understanding and embracing the LGBT community.
TRT/GMO: What needs to be done to increase awareness of the importance of funding for HIV/AIDS?
BR: Recently, I’ve seen a significant increase in public education through media in a very real way. I think this is a great way to increase the dialogue about this important issue and encourage folks to get tested and be informed. Funding for HIV/AIDS is important and certainly needs to increase. One of the ways I think that will happen is by breaking down the persistent stereotype that HIV/AIDS is only a “gay issue.”
TRT/GMO: What can be done about teen suicides that happen as a result of bullying or anti-gay sentiment?
BR: Bullying is a disease that affects every community. We need to continue educating and creating communities of respect and inclusion. We cannot be complacent or tolerant of such abuses. Bullying behavior should be confronted and bullies should be held accountable for their behavior.
TRT/GMO: How can the average member of the LGBT community and/or ally make a difference in our struggle?
BR: I think that it makes a huge difference when members of the LGBT community and their allies share their stories and educate others. Storytelling is powerful and helps others understand where a person is coming from. Educate those around you in whatever way is comfortable for you – to one other person at a time or to a group of people. It’s also important to speak out against injustice when you see it. Don’t stand on the sidelines.
TRT/GMO: Will full LGBT equality be achieved in this country during the next 10 years? 20 years?
BR: No. Things might look a lot better than they do now in 10 or 20 years, but equality is something that you work towards forever. To use another struggle as an example, women still are not seen as equal to men in many realms and still do not have equal pay. There will always be a gap and we will continue to strive for true equality.
TRT/GMO: Do you think that there are special needs in the Hispanic LGBT community that do not exist in the mainstream LGBT community?
BR: I believe that there are cultural differences that make the struggle by Hispanic LGBT individuals different than that of other communities. To me, it feels as though the Hispanic community is decades behind in terms of their willingness to discuss LGBT issues and accept that a person’s identity is part of who they are.
TRT/GMO: Do you consider yourself a hero for the LGBT community?
BR: No; I do the work that I do because I have a passion. I consider the people that I work with the real heroes (Stephanie Houle, Kimberly Williams and the Baystate Health Leadership). They teach me so many things; they support me, and allow me to do the work that I do.
TRT/GMO: How has Baystate helped the LGBT community? How did you turn such help into actual programs?
BR: In 2009, Baystate Health organized the area’s first transgender specific conference with the goal of helping health care providers learn more about this community, how to connect with transgender patients, and how to better serve their specific needs. I have been able to work with leadership to change policies to ensure that employees and patients know that we firmly believe that they should never be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.I have been able to provide learning opportunities for all employees to gain a greater understanding of the LGBT community and issues they face. All of this has contributed to Baystate Health’s recognition by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.” These are just a few of the things I’ve been able to do in my time here, but I look forward to continuing on and facilitating a greater understanding of, and connection with, the LGBT community.