Dr. Jeffrey Grove with his husband, Gerald Grove

ACOFP Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) member Ian Coker, DO, sat down with ACOFP Past President Jeffrey S. Grove, DO, FACOFP dist., to discuss how his experiences as a gay man have shaped his leadership journey within ACOFP and why representation matters.

As you can reflect on your journey through medical school, medical education and then with ACOFP, how do you feel that your kind of mission or what’s driven you has changed—or stayed the same—through each of those kind of stages of your career so far?

I always focused on the job at hand. Usually people who didn’t get involved would get involved locally first, and that’s what I did. I got involved in my county medical society, but then quickly got involved in the Florida Society of ACOFP. And when I was in your shoes, I was already going to conventions in the state. From there, I had great mentors who encouraged me to apply to the national board. And, lo and behold, I got on.

There was a big deal that came down in my life, because I knew for the longest time I was gay, but it wasn’t something that I ever wanted other people to find out. And I was literally about to become ACOFP president. I came out to the Board, and was fearful, but they never missed a beat, and they loved me for who I was. That great transition was definitely a turning point.

So now that I was ACOFP president—really in the osteopathic profession—I saw there is no national presence, no LGBTQ presence. So I did it; I started a committee—the first ever on a national basis. And I’m happy to see that they’re still a part of that; that’s the committee that you’re serving on. And I’m so very honored.

We’ve had several [LGBTQ] receptions at ACOFP meetings. This last time that we did it in Chicago, it was just an amazing experience. There was a gentleman, and I don’t remember his name, but he was probably in his 70s. He came to our reception at the club that night, and he said, “You know, when I saw this in the program, I couldn’t believe it. I never thought I’d see the day in the osteopathic profession, that we would host something like this. And if I would have known—I’ve been coming to these conventions for years—I would have brought my husband.” He was crying, and then I was crying. He finally felt like he belonged.

And for all the AOA leadership that wonders, “Well, gosh, you know, how can we get the young people more involved?” Well, you know, let’s have a place for them at the table. How about an organization that helps truly represent them? This is a part of that. And that’s why I’m glad I started it, and that’s why I continue to work for that in the osteopathic profession.

So, so wonderful. That’s an amazing story. I was actually there at Chicago. That was a really fun event that you hosted. So tell me a little more about how—you kind of touched on as you’ve gone through your story and how important it is to you—But how did you go about coming up with that event? How did the board and the rest of ACOFP respond when you first brought that idea up? How did you feel as you’re going through that process? tell us a little bit more about what it was like from your end in a leadership role to kind of take the leap and create something new with this event that you’ve been doing.

Well, it was mainly about creating something—an event—that was for LGBTQ+ individuals, to make them feel at home, and for allies. And again, when we’ve had these events, the whole Board comes over too, which is fantastic. And the Board was always supportive. I don’t remember any opposition, but at first, I think there was a little bit of a reluctance to really call it what it was. And that was kind of taken a little bit slower.

At first it was the committee on special constituencies, and then there was the reception had that title to it. And even though it was in the program, people didn’t know what that was. So it wasn’t until Bob Moore was executive director that he put in, “Sure, of course, LGBTQ reception.” So he printed it as that. And that was the difference in Chicago, where we went from 30 people to 300 people at the reception. There were a lot of people that didn’t find us that night, but there were a lot of people there, and it was very successful. I’m looking forward to the next time we can all meet together and do it again. It will definitely be a good party.

It’s a term that we hear a lot: representation matters. As you think back on how you went through your career, could you share some of how feeling that you did have representation or didn’t have representation specifically impacted decisions you felt comfortable making or not comfortable making?

I think that coming out was obviously a big deal for me, as it is for most people. As far as I know, there had never been an AOA president or an ACOFP president who was gay. When I started, I wanted to belong; I want people to belong.

There were hardships in me coming out, and I wanted to make a difference. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in whatever I’ve done. But that difficulty needed to have some meaning. And I found meaning in doing this program, so that people did feel comfortable and did feel safe—so that they wouldn’t be fearful that, “Gosh, I can’t be in that position because there’s no one up there like me.” That’s why it was important for me to talk about it. That’s why it’s important to have that reception so that they can see that there are leaders that have done this and that they can do this too.

We need people involved, and we need all people involved. We’re still a small profession, but a lot of great things ahead of us.

What advice do you have for other LGBTQ leaders who are looking to kind of make the next step in their leadership career or take that first step into a leadership role, but may not necessarily feel as supported and how would you advise them if to kind of make that next step?

First of all, you just have to be involved. And, you know, you need to seek out mentors. I had Dr. Marcelino Oliva, who was my mentor, and he helped me to have positions at a higher level. He advocated on my behalf.

I think, in our profession, all you have to do is show up. If you show up, and you come to our LGBTQ reception, the next time we have it, that’s all. Introduce yourself to the Board; they are a loving caring group. There is not a more diverse group in the AOA than the ACOFP Board.

ACOFP is committed to continuing to make improvements with our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. It’s part of why we’re sitting down today—to try and help share your story. Why do you think really committing to telling these stories and improving this DEI initiative is important for ACOFP and the profession as a whole?

If I didn’t take a stand, if I can’t talk about it, then who’s gonna start talking about it? We have to stand up and represent who we are, so that others feel comfortable in their journey. I’ve taken that very seriously.

I have a scholarship in my name at NSU that I’m in the process of changing over to an LGBTQ scholarship now. I’m working on behalf of trying to help my community, and that’s important to me. I wanted to feel a part of it, once upon a time, and I didn’t necessarily feel that way. I heard jokes from AOA leadership types against LGBTQ people, and all I could do is kind of slink down kind of in the corner. There were reasons to think, gosh, maybe I won’t be accepted. But, you know, that’s who I was.

Luckily, ACOFP wasn’t that way. I will say that I don’t think the AOA is that way either. I think those people are long gone. But I think the profession still has a ways to go, so it’s important that we work to try to make sure that happens.

Talk to us a little bit more about your LGBTQ initiative with the American Osteopathic Foundation.

One of the things that I’ve done since being president is that I was invited to be on the Board of the American Osteopathic Foundation (AOF). We have launched this campaign for LGBTQ. When I first came on the Board of the American Osteopathic Foundation, it was basically they just had some scholarships, and they used to do some service projects, and that was about it. I’m looking to expand the programming again.

This is a natural area that I wanted to expand and help support, so that’s why we launched this major fundraising campaign, and there has been a lot of work behind the scenes on that. We had a cocktail Zoom cocktail reception just last week to officially now kick it off and announce it. My husband and I announced that we’re giving a million dollars to the effort.

It’s kind of a three-pronged effort with scholarships and supporting CME. Different osteopathic organizations would be able to send in a request, and they would help underwrite CME for, say, the ACOFP convention in the LGBTQ arena. So it would get paid for. We would pay for your speaker and the flight and that sort of stuff, so that CME and knowledge can be better spread. It’s not only about us, but about caring for our community and how to interact with our community.

Finally, there’s going to be a fellowship in this area. Those are the three areas that the AOF is going to fund with this initiative. It’s my intent to, now at OMED, also have an event like what we have at ACOFP, but at OMED, we’re going to charge. It’s going to be some nominal fee, and all that money will go to the fund, because the event will be paid for, because I’m going to keep paying for it. I don’t care how big it gets. It’s important to me.

Let’s zoom out a bit. In the sense of over the next 10, maybe 20, years, what would you love to see as far as diversity and LGBTQ-specific impact and in the osteopathic profession as a whole? And with ACOFP—where would you like to see the profession go with regard to that?

Well, I’d like to see a lot more members of my community in areas of leadership—that’s certainly one thing. It shouldn’t be that you have to wonder if you’re going to be accepted. And so just the fact that that’s going to go away—that would be a great goal, in and of itself. That would be my ultimate vision. I don’t care what your color is, your identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, nothing, it doesn’t matter. What matters is: are you a good person—a leader, trying to do the right thing? And if you do, your heart’s in the right place, you work hard and that should be a true test of leadership.

Again, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time today and sharing your story. You know, you’ve had quite the career so far and quite the career ahead of you. Thank you so much and thanks for your service to ACOFP.

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