For Cathy Campbell, growing up in Key West, Florida, was growing up amidst “chosen family.” “That’s one of the life lessons I learned early. You need a community to wrap around and support you,” she says. Her mother modeled this as a social worker and activist in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. “My mom always finds some way to contribute to make things a little bit better and that’s a value she has instilled in me,” she says.
Campbell has shown up for others in her work as a hospice nurse, chair of the Acute and Specialty Care department at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, and hospice chaplain. Lately, she’s found a renewed sense of purpose.
At a hospice conference, she wandered into a room offering refreshments and soon realized she was at a presentation about LGBTQ+ healthcare. The presenter was a trans man who shared a story about a hospital stay where he had to be cared for in a bed in the hallway because nurses weren’t sure if he should go in a shared room with men or with women. In fact, trans people often report unjust treatment in emergency rooms, sometimes being outright refused care, and many delay seeking medical help because they fear mistreatment.
By the end of the presentation, she says, “I felt awful. A sense of shame. And I was mad.”
So in 2021, with funding from a competitive Mind and Life Institute grant, she organized a two-day “think tank” event. The event brought together psychologists, counselors, spiritual care providers, doctors, nurses, funeral home staff, and experts like Danica Roem—the first out transgender woman elected to a state legislature.
“It was a powerful opportunity to really hold space and bear witness to the suffering, but out of that suffering to be able to come together and talk about what is next.”Cathy Campbell
“This offered such a light at that moment in time and offered such a space to be seen and see others and laugh and cry and sit in stillness,” says Dallas Ducar, CEO of Transhealth Northampton and a trans woman herself, who helped organize the event. “I think self-care for the queer community, specifically, is just so revolutionary and different. Like many marginalized communities, it’s relational. It’s to learn that you are not alone or the only one.”
As a result, this year, Cambpell will work with the event’s planning board to publish a white paper of recommendations and research on end-of-life care for trans elders. “It was a powerful opportunity to really hold space and bear witness to the suffering, but out of that suffering to be able to come together and talk about what is next,” Campbell says.