By Greg Hernandez
Dr. Kaiyti Duffy is now the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Chief Medical Officer and will work closely with her predecessor Dr. Robert Bolan through the rest of 2021 before he moves into full-time research at the Center.
“Dr. Bolan hired me to become the Audre Lorde Health Program Medical Director and to be succeeding him now as Chief Medical Officer is quite overwhelming,” admitted Duffy, 42. “He’s been such a notable queer health activist in fighting HIV and understanding its impact on the population. I have such admiration for him professionally and deep fondness for him personally.”
In the fall of 2019, Duffy was medical director of the youth center at Howard Brown Health in Chicago. It was a job she loved and thought she’d stay with for a long time.
But life had other plans.
When her partner got a job as a public health professor at Occidental College and moved to Los Angeles with their older son, she knew a change was in store. Duffy stayed behind in Chicago with their younger son trying to figure out her professional future.
“It was going to be so hard to leave a job I really loved and probably impossible to find one nearly as satisfying,” she recalled.
Serendipitously, her mentor from medical school met the Center’s Health Services Co-Director Dr. Ward Carpenter at a meeting and told him about Duffy’s situation. Carpenter said, “Send me her résumé.”
The very next day, Duffy received a call from Dr. Bolan. Within a week, she flew to Los Angeles to discuss becoming medical director of the Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program for lesbian and bi women.
“This was probably the only other job in the country which I would have wanted to take—and it materialized!” Duffy shared. “It’s really incredible the way it’s worked out.
Not Afraid of a Fight
Shortly after coming aboard, the pandemic hit, and Duffy found herself conducting Covid tests at the youth center and on Center employees.
“I connect well with young people, and I connect well with folks when we’re in crisis,” she said. “I took it upon myself to be an active participant. You hired me for one job. I see there’s this other emergency, and my hands are on deck. I will be here as a partner in whatever way you need.”
Duffy also showed she isn’t afraid to put up a fight. She became alarmed when the clinical laboratory where the Center sends its cervical cancer screenings was rejecting specimens from trans men. The lab assumed the specimans had been sent in error. Duffy pointed out to the company that anyone with a cervix, no matter how they identify, needs be screened for cervical cancer with a pap and HPV (human papillomavirus) testing.
“The tests were being rejected even after our lab workers were writing instructions in capital letters: ‘THIS IS A TRANS MALE WITH A CERVIX WHO DOESN’T HAVE PERIODS AND IS ON TESTOSTERONE. PLEASE PROCESS ACCORDINGLY,’” she recalled.
With Bolan’s support, Duffy challenged the company’s policy. After months of providing them with research and patient stories, she succeeded in getting the company to agree to revise its algorithm so that specimens will no longer be rejected automatically based on a patient’s preferred identity.
“That was our journey together,” said Duffy, of Bolan. “He’s done so much challenging institutions—he guided me through that.”
Fighting the good fight alongside Bolan has prepared Duffy well for her new leadership role.
“We’re in a moment where Health Services is going to grow and really fulfill the pledge to be a medical home for all queer-identified folks,” she said. “We will maintain our commitment and services to folks living with HIV and, at the same time, provide quality health services to other communities. We’re growing in communities of color. We’re a center that is diverse and equitable—we want to serve everybody.”