Celebrating Pride Month: Q&A with Dr. Alex Barrera | American Dental Association

Celebrating Pride Month: Q&A with Dr. Alex Barrera

'I’m now very proud to be both gay and a dentist'

Photo of Houston Equality Network

Mission: "Our goals are to provide continuing education courses for professionals on how to better understand and treat their LGBTQ+ patients and to give back to the local queer community through advocacy, service, and access to care," said Dr. Barrera on the founding of the Houston Equality Dental Network.

Before starting dental school, Dr. Alex Barrera was unsure whether or not he was comfortable being “out” to his classmates and professors.

“Sadly, dentistry is still a very conservative profession and one where I never really saw people like me be leaders in their careers,” he said.

Photo of Dr. Barrera
Dr. Barrera

Thankfully, he said, he had a few classmates who were also queer and open about their identity and relationships, making it easier for him to live truthfully while attending dental school.

“I’m now very proud to be both gay and a dentist,” Dr. Barrera said.

June is Pride Month, which is celebrated in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S. The goal: to commemorate and recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had locally, nationally and internationally.

The New Dentist News spoke with Dr. Barrera to discuss his journey in the profession, why he helped create the Houston Equality Dental Network, and how other dental professionals can be better allies all year.

NDN: What influenced your decision to go into dentistry? Any mentors, possibly within the LGBTQ+ community, along the way?

Dr. Barrera: During high school, I was fortunate enough to take a dental assisting course that my school offered and completed my certification to be a registered dental assistant. I started working part-time at a local community health center and witnessed my mother receive exceptional care after never having been to a dentist before. At the time, my cousin had graduated from dental school and started working at the same health clinic. I soon learned that she was gay and that gave me the confidence to feel more comfortable with my own identity and to seek out a career in dentistry. 

What does it mean for you to be a part of both the dental and LGBTQ+ communities?

Dr. Barrera: I work at a health clinic that predominantly serves the LGBTQ+ population of Houston and this is very special to me. The best parts of my work are moments when I see a patient sink into comfort knowing that there is something from their community who they are receiving care from. 

Photo of Houston Equality Network

Chosen family: Members of the Houston Equality Dental Network pose for a group photo. "We are the first LGBTQ+ specific organized dentistry group in the nation and currently have over 40 members of LGBTQ+ dentists, hygienists, and students living in the greater Houston area," said Dr. Barrera.

NDN: You helped create the Houston Equality Dental Network. What led to the creation of this group, and what are its goals and mission? 

Dr. Barrera: This group started as a social group with a few friends who wanted to gather in a professional setting that allowed us to be our full selves. We soon realized how much power was held in this group and established the more formal Houston Equality Dental Network. We are the first LGBTQ+ specific organized dentistry group in the nation and currently have over 40 members of LGBTQ+ dentists, hygienists, and students living in the greater Houston area. 

Our mission is to increase awareness and education of LGBTQ+ topics in dentistry and to help bridge the gap in oral health care among the queer community. Our goals are to provide continuing education courses for professionals on how to better understand and treat their LGBTQ+ patients and to give back to the local queer community through advocacy, service, and access to care. In turn, we've created an organization that allows our members to feel accepted and appreciated while networking with other queer professionals. 

NDN: As many companies and businesses sport the rainbow flag colors during Pride Month, what are some ways members in the dental community can be better allies and ensure their offices are welcoming for those in the LGBTQ+ community?

Dr. Barrera: Firstly, I ask that the dental community takes the time to build their education on things like common LGBTQ+ terms and definitions and understand how and why health disparities exist in this population. 

It's important that we give ourselves the opportunity to evolve even though some things may seem foreign, new or scary to us. Remember that it's our ethical duty to treat all patients with fairness and respect. 

There are a few easy things we can do to better welcome LGBTQ+ patients. For starters, it’s important that we make sure to address all patients correctly. By having space for patients to provide their pronouns and corrected names, we can limit the occurrence of having patients feel discriminated or invalid. Having more than two options for gender selection is also a way of being more inclusive. Make sure to have options like non-binary and give the patient the opportunity to not disclose their gender. Also, we must stay current with health issues that may be specific for those in the LGBTQ+ community like taking exogenous hormones for transitioning and taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention. 

Finally, don't minimize anyone's queerness. Just as you would with any other patient, feel free to ask about their partner and family. It's OK to stumble and mess up. It's not okay to pretend like their queerness is better off unspoken. 

NDN: Lastly, how are you celebrating Pride Month this June?

Dr. Barrera: As a queer person, we get to choose our family — often for survival, but always for acceptance. Pride is unique because it is both a riot for equality and a celebration of love and life. So I celebrate Pride Month by educating and advocating for what I believe in, but also make sure to surround myself with my chosen family — those that have been through what I have been through, and will never stop supporting me.