|Dr. Carbone, left, with his partner David in Morocco|
Dr. Carbone is a laboratory animal veterinarian and self-styled veterinary ethicist in San Francisco.
Hi Dr Carbone! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Please introduce yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
I grew up in Boston, and fell in love with Cornell on a visit there --- at Cornell, I got my BA in evolutionary biology, then worked as a lab animal technician (while my BF at the time was starting vet school), then became a vet student, then stayed on as a staff lab animal vet, and moonlighted as a grad student (History & Philosophy of Science & Technology - the closest I could get to grad work in veterinary ethics). 4 Cornell degrees and 20 years in Ithaca, I finally relocated to California.
Tell us about your job. Did you always know you wanted to be a laboratory animal veterinarian, or what made you decide to pursue this career?
I was a teenage zookeeper in Boston, but worried that pursuing zoo work would mean having to move wherever the jobs were, a compromise that never felt good to me, especially in more homophobic times. In retrospect, decisions made from fear never seem like the decisions we should make.
I fell into lab animal care simply because it was available in Ithaca when my BF was starting vet school, and it got under my skin. It's intellectually challenging, gives a chance for species-diversity (especially in my Cornell days, with vampire bats, and goats, and reptiles and all sorts of things complementing the dog-mouse-monkey repertoire of common lab animal practice). Beyond that, I have this missionary streak - I felt, in the late 80s, that lab animals needed committed welfare-focused vets, like my first mentor Fred Quimby, and I hope, me. It's a great job for someone who needs to feel he's doing good in the world.
How do you identify in terms of the LGBTQ/Ally community? How (if any) do you feel that your identity has affected your school, job, and living location choices/opportunities?
Gay as can be, but got a rocky start in high school/college accepting that. That may be part of why I've made life decisions more on whom I want to be with, and where we want to be, and then found work that fit, than on going where the job of my dreams might lead me. I'd rather be doing the job I do now (which I love; a solid A-minus) in San Francisco, than the job of my dreams, which would be at some vet campus somewhere.
I've been as out as possible since my technician days --- I got that job because my BF had previously worked for my boss and introduced us, and it was pretty obvious to everyone that we weren't just roommates. When I stayed on as a staff vet, with so few out faculty (none, at the time, which was 1987), I definitely knew I had an obligation to be out, for students and for co-workers.
I moved to California to be with my partner, David, who had moved to Monterey, and figured that a vet degree gives a person some flexibility, and that eventually I'd find work. We tried San Fran for a year, loved it, and stayed. I took a part-time job at the medical school (UCSF) where I now work full-time --- despite its then-bad reputation for animal care (c. 1999), but the job and I co-evolved, and the program is now so much better, and I still love my work and have new projects and challenges all the time.
Ithaca NY was great - very liberal town in a beautiful setting with often-objectionable weather. But San Francisco is where we thrive. Growing up in the homophobic 70s, living in SF where our dentist is gay, our running club is gay, our politicians are gay or aggressively gay-friendly is such a delight.
Do you have any words of advice to students, especially in terms of involvement in LGBT extracurricular activities and being out in the application process? Does this change for vet school, externships, and jobs?
Someone wants my advice??? I mostly know from large institutions in liberal places; your mileage may vary.
Dan Savage (advice #1: read Dan Savage) had a column recently on the psychic toll of trying to be LGBT without coming out publicly, trying to live a double life. I've seen how people estrange themselves from their families, colleagues and from people who would want to be their friends - if only they could break through the defensiveness and fear and closed-offedness. So, come out, come out, wherever you are, if you feel at all safe (especially physically safe) doing that.
Always remember how lucky you are --- how being LGBT has helped you understand what discrimination is and how it works, and use that insight for good --- see what it teaches you about sexism, and racism, and transphobia, how you can examine your own privilege and work to end discrimination of all types. If you've gotten through hard times coming out, it will help you help others with that process.
I just added membership in the LGVMA back into my own CV. But I'm conflicted about that --- I hate reviewing resumes where people have to tell me that they're married. I don't want their personal information, and I resent the heterosexual assumption of privilege that they may not think twice about it. I'd feel better if I were actively contributing in some way (advisor to a student LGVMA group, for example) so I'd be listing an accomplishment, not coyly listing my identity. But I'm at a stage in a successful career where I want people who might know and respect my work to also know they know a gay person.
As a student, in this day and age, I'd certainly hope to list leadership in LGBT groups, but maybe not simple membership. Your resume is about what you accomplish, not so much who you are. I'd hate to see a student who threw her energy into LGBT work misrepresent herself on her resume by NOT listing it --- an inspirational leader masquerading as a nerdy student who did nothing but schoolwork.
"How does all this look to potential employers?" asked the out vet in a large institution in the gayest city on the planet. We recently hired a gay vet, and I avoided bias in his favor. But my straight coworkers (yes, this is SF) liked how open he was about his identity. I knew he was gay not because he wrote it on his resume (an identity), but because he was putting time into work with LGBT youth (an accomplishment).
So, there are gay and straight hirers out there who see your identity as an asset. They want diversity. Or they're neutral, but admire whatever courage they think it took you to put that on your resume. Coincidentally, they may [be] the people you'd most want to work with.
Some potential employers, who'd think nothing of seeing an applicant list their marital status, will be put off that you're being political in listing your LGBT.
The interview is different, and it's hard to plan for every possible turn an interview would take. Do you come across as a mature professional who will practice competent veterinary medicine and inspire client confidence (which may look different in the East Village vs St Louis)? You'll have real questions to ask about benefits, if you're partnered and/or parenting. And maybe real questions to field about your husband/wife - do you come across as awkward and evasive or do you say "My partner(s) . . ." or "I'm single." In many places, they're not allowed to ask about your sexual/gender identity or your marital status. Asking what your spouse does may be small talk to put you at ease, and they don't realize (the blinders of privilege) that they're doing the opposite.
Did you have any memorable LGBTQ mentors?
I went to a Jesuit catholic all-boy high school --- how gay is that? --- and we were all, students and teachers, so deep in the closet we could see Narnia. It was straight adults who helped me see I should stop fretting and accept myself. Other than that, it was mostly contemporaries educating and supporting each other, who got me comfortable in my skin.
What are your thoughts on the current climate for the LGBTQ community (e.g. with regards to our current status, rights, struggles)?
So much progress has been made, but geographically, it's a patchwork, and with plenty of setbacks. I've lost patience with heterosexuals - not just the active homophobes who baffle and enrage me, but the ones who passively watch while deals like California's Prop 8 are in play, as if homophobia in their state is your issue, not their responsibility.
How very bizarre that putting restrictions on whom I love and how I love them should be a political rallying point for people.
It's important to know what your rights and benefits might be in any locale and in any company/job you'd consider - if you're partnered and there are kids, what's covered by insurance? Is there a non-discrimination policy and law to protect you? Big institutions, including educational institutions, tend to be pretty good about that stuff.
What are your thoughts on the state of acceptance of the LGBTQ population within the veterinary field? Have you ever had any positive or negative experiences?
Positive: when the Dean of Students at Cornell contacted me to give her Gay 101, knowing that she wasn't serving the LGBT students well if she didn't understand our issues.
Negative: when I started my studies in ethics, and learned that a member of the campus Christian group was telling people he didn't understand how I could live an immoral life and be studying ethics.
My sense is that things have greatly improved, and that even in that world I don't inhabit --- rural/suburban small private practice - there's plenty of "none of my business" response to knowing a colleague is gay.
What is your favorite non-veterinary pastime?
Travel, running, art (ceramics/photography)
Anything else you'd like to say?
It's long been known that minorities of all stripes have to work twice as hard and be twice as good to be seen as equal to the straight white men who run the world. I'm not sure how true that is, at least for those of us who got the white male part.
Here's two conflicting pieces of advice that may relate to that: reconcile them as you will
- These are weird economic times and jobs are scarce, but always remember your job is PART of who you are. However you choose to balance geography, career, time with loved ones, and other activities is your choice; be aware of what you're giving up and what you're getting in whatever paths you choose.
- You're entering a great profession. Pursue it with passion, honesty, integrity and humor, and you're going to be fine.
Would you like to participate in our ongoing interview series?
We are looking for veterinarians who are interested in being interviewed. The interview would be conducted via email or phone, whichever is more convenient. We believe this project is important, not only as a resource to students, but as a means to strengthen a sense of visibility and community within the veterinary field. If you are interested in participating or if you have questions you’d like to see answered, please email us at broadspectrumoutreach [at] gmail [dot] com.