At the LGVMA retreat back in February, we were able to interview several amazing veterinarians. We are pleased to present our interview with Dr. Apryl Steele.
Dr. Apryl Steele the owner of an AAHA certified small animal practice in central Denver. She is the past president of both the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association and the Animal Assistance Foundation, and she is a Director of PetAid Colorado. Dr. Steele lives with her life partner, Kim, and her two dogs Reba and Mister.
We decided to start off with a video introduction.
Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school (undergraduate and veterinary)?
I was born and raised in Colorado. I was in the veterinary corps during Desert Storm (Army), and then I completed my undergraduate work in microbiology at Colorado State University. In 1997 I earned my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from CSU (Go Rams).
Tell us about your job! Did you always know you wanted to be a veterinarian, or what made you decide to pursue this career? What made you pursue the specific field you’re in now?
I am extremely lucky to have had a professional path that has led me to be a practice owner. Growing up I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and I wouldn't take no for an answer. My family had absolutely no money to send me to college, and none of my relatives had ever graduated from college. Yet, I never doubted that I would be a veterinarian. I suspect much of this strong advocation for this career was that the animals in my life were the non-judgmental presences and I needed them. While I had yet to realize that my sexual identity was different than the norm, I knew that the unconditional love that animals simply give to those who care for them was a necessary part of my life. Being from the center of Denver, in my world animals were cats and dogs which is why I pursued small animal medicine.
From high school through graduation from veterinary school I worked as a technician assistant in a practice South of Denver. After graduation I became an associate in that practice where I worked for two years. Looking back, it probably would not have been a particularly accepting environment for a non-heterosexual woman, but since I had yet to figure out that I was not heterosexual I did not experience prejudice. After two years of practice I was asked by a retiring veterinarian if I would consider buying her small holistic cat practice which she would finance for me. This was a true gift, and although I was (and am) a traditional small animal practitioner, I took this oppportunity. The first two years were a difficult transition as I was learning to run a practice, dealing with some very irritated clients who wanted homeopathy and soothing those who didn't want to see a dog at their veterinarian's office. However, after a couple years the practice starting growing quickly and has become a 3.5 doctor AAHA certified small animal practice of high quality medicine in central Denver (we built a new building in 2004).
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?
I am a lesbian. This realization came later in life, so it did not affect me at school. As I noted above, I have been truly blessed because when I came to this realization I was a practice owner and in a supportive environment. I have always desired to live in Denver which in my experience is gay friendly. I have not allowed by sexual orientation to limit my choices, and I have been the president of both the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Association and the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association.
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 (whether that’s for externships, internships, or jobs)?
You are role models and I encourage you to embrace that gift and that responsibility. By expressing yourself honestly you are breaking stereotypes for many who have not had the pleasure to meet anyone with an alternative sexual identity. You have a supportive network where you can find encouragement and understanding. The leaders of Broad Spectrum are outstanding and they can help you provide a framework to create an inclusive support network in your school. If you can find the courage to be "out" as you apply for internships, externships and jobs you will set yourself up to exist in a supportive environment. If being out keeps you from obtaining a positition, then that position is one that would have likely had a significant negative effect on your self esteem.
Did you have any memorable LGBTQ mentors?
Ralph Johnson, the executive director of the CVMA, has been an amazing role model for me.
What are your thoughts on the current climate for the LGBTQ community (e.g. with regards to our current status, rights, struggles).
We are making progress, and although it never seems like enough it is happening faster now than ever before in history. We have been screaming to be heard for decades, and now people are listening. We are at a pivotal point of defining our message because what we promote now is how our society will view us. Our agenda as the LGBT+ community has been defined by our greatest challenges, which in the past have included the AIDS epidemic, extreme discrimination, threats to our jobs and even to our lives. While there are places in this country where these threats still exist, change is being made in many areas. I believe our biggest challenge now is to educate those who are finally listening, and nurture them into being true advocates of our community.
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?
I feel very accepted in the veterinary community, from my colleagues on a local level to the President of the AVMA. When attending the House of Delegates meetings there are obviously some very conservative members still in leadership positions, but they are losing credibility.
What is your favorite non-veterinary pastime?
My favorite non-veterinary pastime is a tie between cycling and playing poker.
What are two random facts about you - can be anything - doesn't have to be veterinary related (in fact it’s better if it’s not)?
My favorite meal is Popcorn with reggiano cheese and Chardonnay.
I once drove 32 hours with only a one hour break so I could skinny dip in the ocean. That adventure was quickly ended when I noticed the construction workers on a pier.
What is your biggest vice? What sorts of things do you work on to improve yourself professionally and personally?
My biggest vice is trying to fix everything for everyone and forgetting that that is neither within my capability nor is it my responsibility. I continually challenge myself with leadership positions, participate on the boards of many non-profits where I find great role models, and I make my relationship with my partner a priority in my life.
What is your strength? How has it helped you get to where you are today?
Tenacity (some say stubbornness), willingness, courage, insightfulness and kindness are my strengths and these traits have enabled me to develop a great community of similar people. My tenacity and courage enabled me to say "yes" when considering purchasing my practice. Willingness and insightfullness have allowed me to attain leadership positions in several organizations which has led to my voice being heard on a greater level. Kindness just makes my life easier.
What would you say to someone who is homophobic? Would you say anything at all? To a veterinarian, veterinary technician or veterinary student?
I would ask them to explain of what they are afraid. I have yet to hear a good answer.
Have you encountered discrimination? What experiences have you had that make you feel like the veterinary LGBTQ community is becoming more or less accepted?
When I was married it was to a black man, and I did experience discrimination when travelling to some Southern states. If I sense an uncomfortable situation when walking with my partner I can let go of her hand and the world sees us as friends. This was not possible in an interracial relationship. I do feel that the LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted as evidenced by state and national statues being passes allowing civil unions and gay marriage. While there is still an "old guard" I do believe that the veterinary LGBTQ community is ahead of the social changes (as most educated professions tend to be).