Aside from time away for work, Pennsylvania has always been home to Kurt Palumbo. He grew up outside Philadelphia, moved to the city for college, and briefly worked in Rochester, NY after he graduated PA school before ultimately returning back to Philadelphia to practice as an infectious diseases Physician Assistant.
As a gay man, Kurt knew that Philadelphia had protections for LGBTQ Americans in employment, housing and public accommodations, but he still debated whether to be out in his career because he had heard horror stories of LGBTQ folks facing discrimination in the workplace. He chose to be honest and show up with his whole self, which for him includes wearing a rainbow badge on his jacket. He believes it sets patients at ease about their own sexual orientation or gender identity and communicates that Kurt’s office is a safe space. Kurt’s rainbow badge really helps patients relax, taking that barrier of uncertainty away, so they know they won’t face discrimination. “I would like our country to see that queer people are everywhere,” he said. “We are your medical providers, lawyers, social workers, and so much more.”
Visibility is especially important to him in health care, but at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Kurt’s visibility was propelled even further as a front-line health care worker. His responsibilities shifted so he could focus on the growing and vulnerable population of COVID-infected individuals. In addition to all the coordination and care he performs for routine patients, all of his spare time throughout the pandemic was dedicated to testing our healthcare workers, including working overtime.
As Kurt committed himself fully to protecting lives during the pandemic, he thankfully feels safety for himself because he works in the city of Philadelphia, which guarantees additional city-wide protections to LGBTQ folks, unlike his counterparts in many cities outside the Philadelphia zip code. LGBTQ Pennsylvanians remain without comprehensive statewide laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Kurt feels that it shouldn’t even be a question of establishing federal nondiscrimination protections to cover ALL Americans, though.
“I think it would be monumental to have LGBTQ nondiscrimation protections pass nationwide,” Kurt said. “Even if I didn’t feel the immediate effects in my line of work, it would mean a lot to others who are desperately seeking safety. It shouldn’t be a question. In America, we’re all supposed to be equal. That’s what this country was founded on.”