Out In Front: Changing the System
Lisa Linsky and Andrea Knittel work to transform the future of law and medicine
Some people dream of becoming a medical doctor—others want a Ph.D. Andrea Knittel, at the age of 29, is going for both, having just finished her third year in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health.
“I love thinking about how gender, culture, and sexuality shape the decisions people make and their access to health care—and I’ve always been passionate about addressing inequalities in health care,” she says.
One of the greatest challenges facing lesbians today, says Knittel, is equal access to the prevention and treatment of disease. Many doctors do not recognize the importance of creating a safe environment for sexual-minority women and are even more unaware of the specific health needs of lesbians. One solution, she says, is to require accredited medical schools not only to cover health disparities in the LGBT community, but to assess their graduates in cultural competency with lesbian, bisexual, and transgender patients.
Over the years, Knittel has certainly done her part in this effort, As a community service project, she has created a resource guide for health care professionals who want to provide primary care to transgender patients. The guide is now featured on the websites of the American Medical Student Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
She has also lent her talents to the medical community worldwide—from assisting with pre- and post-HIV-test counseling in Honduras, to conducting HIV data research in South Africa.
And while all this keeps her busy pretty much 24/7, she is also an avid recruiter, promoting careers in medicine and research for women, and makes herself available to prospective students—in particular, lesbians, bisexuals, and queers—via email, phone, and even in person. To that end, she always advises young people to network.
“Lean on the community. You have to, to achieve your dreams,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who have the jobs you want, who are living the lives you’d like, and who are a few steps ahead of you, because they are the ones who can help you find the resources you need.”
When she was only an eighth-grader, Lisa Linsky made one of the most important decisions of her life. “A friend approached me. His legal guardian was being investigated by Child Protective Services and he sought my counsel. I was 14 years old. I never knew why he chose me to help him, but I still remember sorting through this problem with him. I went home to my parents and declared, ‘I am going to be a lawyer,’ ” Linsky says, “and I never strayed from the course, and it never occurred to me to do anything else as a career. Although my parents thought I would get married, have kids, and settle down close to home in Philadelphia, I moved to New York and became the white-collar professional my parents thought I would marry. I started out in a prosecutor’s office because I wanted to get into a courtroom and try cases.”
She began her professional life investigating and prosecuting cases involving family-related homicides, sex crimes, crimes against children and the elderly, and domestic violence. “It was Law and Order material, and we were on the cutting edge of prosecuting these cases. I learned to advocate for those who could not do so for themselves.” From there, she moved into private practice and today serves as a trial attorney and partner at McDermott Will & Emery, where she also founded and chairs the firm’s LGBT Diversity and Inclusion Committee. On her watch, the firm has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), earning a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index every year since 2006.
Linsky’s advocacy for the LGBT community extends well beyond her law firm. She is an officer on the national board of directors for Lambda Legal, and she created the blog Out and About: LGBT Legal for the Huffington Post. In addition, she’s done pro bono work on behalf of LGBT asylum-seekers who have fled their home countries due to persecution, and she has collaborated with the Trevor Project.
“These projects touch on the social issues of our time,” notes Linsky. “They involve real people with real problems, people who need legal assistance and cannot afford it, and working on such compelling matters with these remarkable organizations helps to transform our world.”
Regarding the international lesbian community, she says, “I am concerned that women across the world are being tortured and raped because of their sexual orientation. We cannot look away. We are in a unique position to effect change. We all need to jump in and work to stop injustice and violence, locally and globally. The time has come to focus our energies on how best to come together, if we are to continue to evolve and flourish.”