Four Jefferson Coming Out Stories

“Appreciating, understanding and accepting each other’s ‘uniqueness’ is fundamental to the job every one of us in health care carries out every day.”

National Coming Out Day falls every year on October 11 and celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community and people’s bravery in coming out to friends, families, coworkers, or even to themselves. Coming out is a process. One that can begin with a conversation with loved ones or a trusted friend and then continues anytime the person is in a new environment, meeting new people or starting at a new job, if they so choose to come out again and again. A 2018 report by the Human Rights Campaign found that 46% of LGBTQ+ Americans remain closeted at work, for fear of being stereotyped, rejected or bullied. This year, four Jefferson employees share their coming out stories and the beautiful moments of acceptance, compassion, and even relatability, that can follow extreme vulnerability.

Jefferson Hospital President Rich Webster in front of colorful mural.

Rich Webster
President, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals

I consider myself pretty fortunate. I have had a successful career, first as a staff nurse and eventually, advancing to become the president of an academic health center with a great history, excellent reputation and phenomenal people who I am blessed to work with every day.

They save lives and I ask them what I can do to help. They see me, for me. No pretenses, no judgement, just a lot of honest communication based on trust, compassion and mutual respect.

People wonder if being gay has ever affected my career. I can honestly say no. I have never felt pressured to conform, or hide who I am just to advance professionally. My career trajectory happened naturally, and with a lot of hard work, I get to do what I love most – help others.

As a healthcare provider, and now as a leader, my whole job is about being compassionate, supportive and highly attuned to the needs of very diverse populations, from our patients, to our employees and the community. Appreciating, understanding and accepting each other’s “uniqueness” is fundamental to the job every one of us in health care carries out every day.  I am lucky to be surrounded by people who are grounded in that same belief.

As I said, I am pretty fortunate. Fortunate to be in such a supportive atmosphere that lets me, be me. In some small way, I hope that my role as a healthcare leader, and being a gay man, demonstrate to others that success is possible if you believe in yourself and the skills you bring to the table. And most importantly, that you always remain true to who you are.

People have asked me if I remember the moment in my career that I came out. While I have had my own struggles about coming out professionally, I think that by being authentic, transparent and honest, it’s been a more gradual process for me than just one day…coming out. The environment at Jefferson just made it more and more comfortable for me to acknowledge it. I’ve been accepted here!

Elisabeth Brent posed in front of colorful hospital artwork

Elisabeth Brent
Administrative Assistant to VP, Jefferson Health – New Jersey

I will never forget the day I came out to a former co-worker. We always had a nice work relationship and at times, we would share personal stories. However, one day, she shared her very strong stance on the subject of marriage equality. She shared that it was wrong. I felt upset and I felt unsafe. She was essentially saying that the government should take away my right to get married. After that, I kept my distance and never shared anything about my personal life with her.

After some time had passed, she noticed my demeanor had changed. One day, she pulled me aside after work, and asked why I had been quieter around her. I told her that her stance on marriage equality had made me feel uncomfortable.  She was silent before she asked what had made me feel so uncomfortable about it.

I generally do not have hesitation or trepidation about coming out to others. However, in this instance I did, but that made it all the more important to come out to her. I held my breath, thought “here goes nothing,” and let her know I was a lesbian.  A silent, awkward moment passed before, suddenly, tears came down her face. She told me how terrible she felt, and said if she only knew, she wouldn’t have made me feel the way she had. We hugged and discussed how we could’ve handled the situation differently, and I explained how difficult and scary it can be for LGBTQ employees to come out to their co-workers, that in some states, it is still legal for employers to terminate an LGBTQ employee due to their sexual orientation. This is one of the reasons as to why it’s not always easy to readily share their weekend happenings they shared with their loved ones or partners with their co-workers.

As a result, we both created and implemented a day where LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ employees were offered a walk in one another’s shoes to discover what their daily paths are like.  The results were so powerful it became a semi-annual event. The goal of this day was not to change people’s minds, but to show empathy, compassion and understanding towards one another, even though there were differences of opinions and values. My co-worker and I turned our timid and uneasy emotions into a major breakthrough of differences. I know it sounds cliche, but certain people are meant to be within our lives for a reason, and I feel eternally grateful to and for her.

Samuel Fels posed in front of window overlooking Philadelphia's gayborhood

Samuel Fels
Student, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Teenage Sammy (yes, once upon a time I was Sammy) had not a clue that identifying as anything other than straight was an option. Teenage Sammy thought being queer was a decision for grown adults. Teenage Sammy fought his insecurities and the bullies who preyed on them every day. No one told Teenage Sammy that being different was okay.

I promised myself to never let another teenager or child who sat in front of me to slip through these same cracks, and at JeffHOPE, I unexpectedly had just this opportunity. JeffHOPE comprises a system of student-run acute care clinics that exist within four homeless shelters and one harm-reduction-based needle exchange program every week in Philadelphia. At this time, I was working at a shelter where I provided screening and counseling services for sexually transmitted infections and pre-exposure prophylaxis for STD prevention (PrEP). No matter the individual job description, however, we all did so much more than that–and the nights I cherished most were spent with the kids and teens who resided at the shelter.

One teenager in the shelter spent many of his nights with the clinic team. He shadowed each of us, learned about our roles and the world of medicine, and mostly just chatted with us about our lives. The two of us instantly bonded. One day, under no special circumstances, he came out to me. On the inside I was screaming out of excitement, ready to share with him all the amazing aspects of being LGBTQIA+. But the budding clinician within me jumped in first.

“Who is your support system?” “Are you out to anyone else?” “Do you feel validated at home?” “Is there enough help for you at school?” “Do you feel safe?”

I wanted to make sure that he felt safe and supported, and I told him that he could always come to me, any time, for questions or guidance. I told him to never let anyone dull his fire. He understood that our world is extremely difficult for queer people–after all, he’s a teenager with access to pop culture and didn’t need a lecture. And when the day finally came for his family to move out, we all felt it in our hearts. I consider myself absolutely lucky and wholeheartedly recognize the privileges that allowed me to serve as a mentor and friend to this particular teenager. These are the experiences that have fueled my own fire to validate, lift up, and inspire LGBTQIA+ kids and teens for the rest of my life. And as the incoming director for another JeffHOPE clinic, I hope to continue my mission to do the same.

Jude Andrews on a hospital bridge

Jude Andrews
Guest Relations Manager, Patient and Family Experience

My story is probably familiar to many people. As a kid, I always felt I was a bit different than the other boys. In grade school, I remember being teased for having friends that were girls. Going to Catholic school all my life, I used to pray every night that I was not gay. I tried very hard to ensure that I was portraying the kind of boy that everyone expected me to be. It was exhausting.

The suppression of who I truly was continued throughout high school. I went to (and have pictures from) more school dances with girls than I care to admit. I tried my best to personify a straight acting guy to deflect any attention.  It wasn’t until my early college years that I started working in Center City and met many LGBTQ individuals. This is when it all began to make sense. Each person I met was unique in their own way and made me feel important and that it was ok to be who I was. This gave me the strength to slowly start coming out to my friends and family, which I did after college. Interestingly enough, most of the people I told said they already knew. I wish they would have said something earlier to help relieve the amount of stress I put on myself. I truly am lucky to have had the love and support that I did, especially since I know that many individuals still struggle to find this acceptance.

When I started working at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, I was out and proud, but still had the normal hesitancy regarding how I would share this with my colleagues. I never really had to make an official announcement. From the start, I realized that Jefferson was a place that promoted diversity and inclusion. I never felt as though I could not be who I am because of what people would have said or thought of me.

I have met some of my closest friends here at Jefferson and I respect how much the organization does to support the LGBTQ community. And, I admire their acceptance and dedication to do even MORE for the LGBTQ community. Being an employee of such a welcoming organization makes me proud to tell everyone that I work at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

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