Stephanie Wagner, BSN, RN, CLE, IBCLC, RLC
June is my favorite month of the year! Why, you ask?! Because June is PRIDE month for the LGBTQ+ community, a community I am so proud to exist in! PRIDE, PRIDE, PRIDE, PRIDE, PRIDE, PRIDE, PRIDE! I have it, I live it, and in June specifically, I get to participate in events with others from all over the United States (and world…PRIDE month is celebrated at many different times in many other places around the world, so it is not recognized internationally) that live and feel the same way as I do. That energy is always powerful; that is, PRIDE! The act of showing up and gathering to celebrate our differences and our diversity, in a world that clearly gives us the message that we are different and do not belong, is dynamic and necessary! I cannot get enough of the numerous great things that being born under the LGBTQ+ rainbow stands for. The deep pleasure of being able to share that energy, passion, love, and acceptance with tons of other LGBTQ+ persons and allies, is nothing short of magical. If you have never participated in a PRIDE activity of some kind, you are missing out for sure! As we occupy such a unique and special sect of healthcare as IBCLC’s and other lactation specialists, we have the obligation to do better for ALL families that exist in society and come together as a profession to use our collective expertise and experience to allow every parent and baby to have the feeding experience that is successful to them, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or anatomy.
Many believe the act of gathering and demonstrating as a community in the name of LGBTQ+ PRIDE started with the Stonewall riots that occurred in New York City in 1969. It is true that the first public PRIDE march and parades were held in June of 1970 in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, but Stonewall was not the turning point for the LGBTQ+ community. The riot at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 made National news, yes, but protest movements, resistance, and gatherings of LGBTQ+ persons in the name of visibility and inclusion were happening long before 1970, even if they were mostly underground up until that point. The first PRIDE parades in 1970 may have been the first time the public saw large groups of LGBTQ+ persons “coming out into the light of day” and gathering publicly in large intentional groups, but LGBTQ+ persons have always existed and often paid a dear price for simply being born who they are. As recently as the 1950’s and 1960’s in this Country, a person would be labeled as a criminal in 48 states for simply being identified as LGBTQ+. During that time gay establishments were shut down; people were arrested for simply existing; it was illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals (the identifying term used during those decades for LGBTQ+ persons, but a term found to be clinical and pejorative by most of the community now); thousands were fired and lost jobs, homes, and their security if their identity was found out; the military discharged thousands during that time if homosexual identity was suspected or revealed; names of LGBTQ+ persons were posted publicly in newspapers; and countless LGBTQ+ people were beaten, traumatized, and killed by cops and civilians alike, often without report or any consequences to the attacker. It was a scary and volatile time to be “homosexual” in this Country. It was simply not a safe time for the community, and the reason so many remained, and perhaps remain closeted to this day, was because being yourself was a risk all the time.
Much of the hate and violence placed on our community can be traced back to the power of religion and politics. We know LGBTQ+ persons have existed since humans have existed and there is clear documentation of gay/homosexual people being openly accepted as a way of life as early in our history as ancient Greece and Roman times, but that acceptance has ebbed and flowed from acceptance to hate and everywhere in between since that time. Even today in 2021, laws and religion still try to dominate the rights, equality, and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. This is the reason why PRIDE month and events centered around our community are still so critically important. PRIDE is not just about partying and rainbows and WAY too much large corporate sponsorship; PRIDE is about our community’s history, struggles, and victories to have the dignity to gather in the name of being labeled an outsider in a heteronormative world. The LGBTQ+ community stands on the shoulders of so many others who have fought and sacrificed for decades and centuries to simply exist with dignity, equality, acceptance, and security. Remember it was not until 1994 that homosexuality was declassified as a disease and mental illness in all medical manuals across the board! I was a sophomore in high school in 1994.
“The Culture Wars”, as the cultural conflict of acceptance of everyone in a society is often referred to, we know, started in the 1600’s when puritans first arrived on this land. Culture wars exist across all kinds of issues that affect humanity and “commonly refers to topics on which there is general societal disagreement and polarization in societal values” and “other cultural conflicts based on values, morality, and lifestyle which are described as the major political cleavage.” There are culture wars everywhere in our society. There are cultural wars in healthcare. There are culture wars in the field of human lactation.
As of data reported on IBLCE.org on March 3, 2021, we know there are currently 33,492 IBCLC’s worldwide, with 18,541 of those IBCLC’s from the United States (and hopefully members of USLCA!). That is 18,541 plus opportunities that we have the privilege and responsibility of being leaders in healthcare and society in general, as we are some of the first professionals a new family encounters when they need help. If we as experts in the field of human lactation set the example and lead the way of acceptance, all families will receive the equitable care they deserve, and they will know that there is a place for them and their baby too!
I know there is some resistance and homophobia in our profession, as I have experienced it personally. There have been incidences since I became an IBCLC in 2014 that have given me great pause and concern, not only as a self-identified Lesbian/Queer person, but also as the owner of a Private Lactation Consultant Practice, EverLatching Love, who works with a lot of LGBTQ+ identified families. I also know there is a lot of pushback and concern with expanding our profession to include acts of feeding a baby such as chestfeeding and bodyfeeding, alongside breastfeeding, that are applicable to all bodies and identities. Please know that the expansion of inclusive language and acts is simply an understanding of our lived experiences! Language and actions that allow us to be ourselves, always and in all ways, are more than just critical; they can mean life or death for so many. Being forced to only identify the act of breastfeeding your baby when you do not consider any part of your anatomy to be a breast, can create incredible dysmorphia in a person. Being misgendered…being called by your dead name or the name you were assigned at birth versus who you are today…being called the wrong pronouns/prefixes…being told things about your lived experience and your family that are not truth for you…not seeing your family and baby as having a seat at the breastfeeding table…All of these things and more can create great harm and damage for an individual and/or family. We as first line providers of new families can do better and change all these things and more for them! Inclusive language and actions come from within the LGBTQ+ community, not from IBCLC’s, and not honoring and including their needs is going against the “First do no harm” oath we all take in medicine.
I am very aware of the argument and fear from some in our profession that we will at some point erase mother, mothering, and breastfeeding in our field by shifting slightly to include all. I am here to say that is simply not possible! Mothers, cisgender women, and breastfeeding are so rooted in our profession, society, and history that they cannot be erased. Nor is that anyone’s intention within the LGBTQ+ community. Gay/Queer people talk. We find each other in this world and in this profession. Like begets like; energy aligns with energy. No matter where I am, I always manage to find other LGBTQ+ persons. I have found and aligned with other LGBTQ+ persons in our profession over the years and never, not once, have I ever heard anyone say that they are trying to erase or replace the foundation of our work: Mothers. Please know that! What we are doing is asking this profession to expand the terminology and understanding of what it means to mother and parent and feed a baby, and accept that due to progression, acceptance, medical advancements, and legal protections, many different types of identities, bodies, and families exist today. And they desire the same chance and opportunity to bond with their babies as anyone else does. We all work with the knowledge that feeding a baby is about so much more than just the food. That part is just as critical for LGBTQ+ parents to get to experience with their babies as well, and we can help them do that.
I ask that each of you take some time during this month of LGBTQ+ PRIDE to reflect on the IBCLC/lactation professional you are and strive to be better. Opening our expertise and our hearts to all families is not hard, nor does it diminish anyone else in any way. If you have questions and/or do not know where to begin or how to do that, then reach out! Educate yourself. Listen. Ask questions. Seek out the truth. Lead by example. Practice with inclusion and heart always. Being an IBCLC is an honor for me. Being Queer is an honor for me. Being accepted and trusted by this profession to help merge those two worlds whenever I am given the opportunity to educate is also an honor for me, so I thank you. Happy PRIDE! Happy June!
Stephanie’s lactation story:
Stephanie Wagner, “Steph”, is a Registered Nurse of 20 years, her first 13 years in Labor and Delivery, after graduating from James Madison University in 2001. She became a Certified Lactation Educator in 2012 and an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant in 2014. After working in the hospital setting for 18 years, she now works solely as a Lactation Consultant in Private Practice. Her Private Practice, EverLatching Love, started in 2015 in NYC. EverLatching Love provides Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding/Bodyfeeding support and education by way of home visits and virtual consultations. Steph is the current Treasurer of the New York Lactation Consultant Association (NYLCA) and a member of the United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) as well as the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA). She has been featured in Romper.com, nymag.com, the Strategist, TLC the TV network, and other media outlets such as the Breastfeeding Outside the Box podcast series. She teaches part time for Evergreen Perinatal Education, educating new lactation professionals in our field. She speaks at conferences across the Country on best practice when working with LGBTQ+ families. Steph is a proud Certified OutCare Healthcare Professional as of March 2020. She was privileged to speak at the New York Coming Out Conference, the first ever International Transgender Conference, in October 2019. The conference had a big emphasis on healthcare and Steph presented on Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding/Bodyfeeding to the Transgender community in attendance. She is constantly learning about Queer culture and advances in human lactation and the best ways to intersect them for inclusive care.
The content of this post does not imply endorsement and may not reflect the position of USLCA.