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Look Under the Scope – LGBT+ History Month

An enamel heart-shaped pride badge pinned on a doctor's coat
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In the UK, February has been celebrated as LGBT history month since 2005, following the repeal of Section 28 – a legal act prohibiting the promotion of homosexual activity by teaching or publishing material – in 2003.

Hate crime in the UK has risen from 40,000 cases in 2012 to over 140,000 in 2023. Now, more than ever, it is essential to bring awareness to the vital contributions of LGBT+ people in society.

While LGBT+ people have always been present in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM), many kept their identity hidden to avoid persecution. As recently as 2019, 28% of LGBT+ scientists stated that they had considered leaving their workplace due to the climate or discrimination towards LGBT+ people.

The theme for LGBT+ History Month this year is Medicine – #UnderTheScope, celebrating the contribution of LGBT+ individuals to medicine and healthcare.

Here, we explore key figures often passed over when recounting significant contributions to medicine.

Dr. Alan L. Hart (1890–1962)

Dr. Alan L. Hart, seen from the chest up, wearing a suit and tie and round spectacles.

Dr. Alan L. Hart, ca 1922. Credit: Oregon Queer History Collective.

Dr. Alan L. Hart was revolutionary in radiology and tuberculosis (TB) research.

Hart was one of the first individuals to receive gender-confirmation surgery in the United States. While the term transgender wasn’t used until the 1960s, Hart was assigned female at birth (AFAB) and lived as male.

Hart obtained a medical degree in 1917 and began medical practice in Southwest Oregon at the Gardiner Hospital, but, after it was revealed that Hart was AFAB, his medical practice in Oregon underwent closure.

In an interview published March 26, 1918, in the Albany Daily Democrat, Hart said: “Very few people can understand. Even members of my own profession cannot comprehend, and I have had some of the biggest insults of my career in doctor’s offices.”

Hart went on to receive master’s degrees in radiology from the University of Pennsylvania and public health from Yale University. He then served as the director of hospitalization and rehabilitation at the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission.

Hart was the first to propose the use of X-rays to detect TB before symptoms arose, allowing the disease to be caught earlier. He hosted TB X-ray screenings and public education programs and prevented many others from getting and spreading the disease.

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873–1945)

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker seen from the torso up, wearing a suit.

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker, ca 1922. Credit: National Library of Medicine.

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker was the first director of the New York City Bureau of Child Hygiene and the first woman to earn a doctorate in public health from the New York University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College.

In 1890, three months after the death of her brother, Baker’s father died after contracting typhoid fever. At the time, Baker had intentions to study at Vassar College, but this unfortunate passing burdened the family financially, inspiring Baker to go to medical school, where she became interested in child healthcare.

While delivering babies, Baker witnessed the crowded and unsanitary living conditions of tenement housing that the working class had no choice but to raise babies in.

When she became director of the New York City Bureau of Child Hygiene, Baker switched the focus of the health department from treatment to prevention. She sent nurses to teach mothers how to care for their babies and how to recognize signs of illness. By 1911, the infant death rate in the city had fallen by 40%. 

Baker also assisted in catching “Typhoid Mary,” a healthy carrier of Salmonella typhi who unknowingly infected more than 50 people with typhoid. The case was widely publicized and paved the way for broader public health programs to improve hygiene standards.

What is typhoid fever?

Typhoid fever is caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria and can be spread through contaminated food and water.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache and constipation, followed by diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain. Severe cases can lead to serious complications or even death.

According to the World Health Organization, over 100,000 people die from typhoid every year.

In her 1939 autobiography, Fighting for Life, Baker wrote: “When I think back over the long years of hard work and struggle, my joy when ideals were realized and my determination to try over again when things were blackest, my loyal friends and coworkers – I come back to the place where I started. Of course I would do it again. I would not have any of it different in any way. It was a magnificent opportunity, a great and heart-warming experience, a happy road to follow.”

While Baker never came out, she spent her later life in the company of Ida Alexa Ross Wylie, a novelist, screenwriter and suffragette born in Australia.  

Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke (1894–1970)

An illustration of Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke, wearing a pinstripe suit

Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke. Credit: Technology Networks.

Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke was a prominent advocate for the UK civil rights movement and co-founded one of the first Black-led organizations in Britain, the League of Coloured Peoples.

Clarke was born in Barbados and, in 1914, won a scholarship in natural science, securing him a place at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. After training at University College Hospital, London, Clarke became a qualified surgeon and then set up his medical practice in South London, where he worked for 45 years.

During the London Blitz of 1940–41, despite intensive bombing, Clarke traveled daily to his surgery.

In the 1950s, Clarke was elected to represent the West Indies on the Council of the British Medical Association and was one of the first Black people elected.

Although misspelled, Clarke was responsible for Clark’s rule, a formula used to determine the correct dosage of medication for children between the ages of 2 and 17. Adult doses of medication cannot be universally applied to pediatric patients, as pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics vary based on a number of factors, including age.

Clarke was known to be gay among his immediate Black community. From the 1930s, he lived with Edward “Pat” Walter, who accompanied him on various overseas trips in the 1950s–60s.

Dr. Neena B. Schwartz (1926–2018)

Dr. Neena B. Schwartz sitting next to a microscope in a lab.

Dr. Neena B. Schwartz. Credit: Northwestern University Archives

Dr. Neena B. Schwartz was a founding member of the Association for Women in Science and co-founded Women in Endocrinology, within the Endocrine Society.

Schwartz completed her PhD in physiology at Northwestern University in 1953 and began her career as assistant professor of physiology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

In 1974, Schwartz created the Program for Reproductive Research at Northwestern and served as director of the Center for Reproductive Science. Schwartz also served terms as president of both the Endocrine Society and the Society for the Study of Reproduction.

In the 1970s, Schwartz and her research team identified a new hormone called inhibin. They found that the hormone plays a role in both female and male hormone signaling and fertility. Inhibin can be an indication that a fetus has Down Syndrome and can be used as a marker for ovarian cancer.

In 2010, Schwartz published a memoir of her life called A Lab of My Own, in which she came out as lesbian and encouraged other women and gay scientists to persevere. In the autobiography, Schwartz wrote: “In all, my life has been characterized by three passions; my activism in the struggle to gain equal opportunities in science for women, my love for reproductive science, and my love for women.”