You may have seen an article posted this past Spring regarding a couple from our community; lesbian veterinarians in Tennessee. If you haven't seen the article yet, it's linked below. We are very excited to have gotten in touch with Dr. Sophy Jesty for an interview. Despite her busy schedule, which includes being an assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Tennessee, she made time to answer some of our questions. We hope you're as excited as we are to hear more about her life and her family.
Before we get into the interview, here's a brief introduction.
Dr. Sophy Jesty and Dr. Valeria Tanco were married in New York City in 2011. When they subsequently moved to TN for jobs at the University of TN veterinary school, their marriage was no longer recognized. They became involved in a lawsuit to have their marriage recognized by the state of TN in 2012. When their daughter, Emilia, was born in March 2013 they were recognized as married and therefore both were considered legally to be Emilia’s parents. Although this ruling was subsequently reversed by a higher court, the two remain on their baby’s birth certificate. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court elected to review the Tanco vs. Haslam case, along with other cases from the Sixth Circuit. They are hoping that the Supreme Court will decide that the right to marry is a constitutional right which cannot be denied to same sex couples by state law. A ruling is expected in June of this year.
Please introduce yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school (undergraduate and veterinary)?
Val grew up and went to vet school in Argentina, and I grew up in the states and went to vet school at Cornell.
Tell us about your job. Did you always know you wanted to specialize? Did you always know you wanted to be in academia, or what made you decide to pursue this career?
We both knew we wanted to specialize. I wanted to specialize in either large animal medicine or cardiology, and ended up getting board certified in both. Val wanted to specialize in reproductive medicine and is board certified and completing a PhD. We both like academia because of the variability day to day (clinics, teaching, research) and the flexibility it affords.
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?
We don’t really identify ourselves specifically, although we’re both gay. I don’t think either of us feels that being gay has affected our jobs; veterinary medicine tends to be gay-friendly. We were hesitant to move down south to Tennessee but did so because of a good career opportunity for both of us. Knoxville is much more hip and tolerant than we imagined, which is good!
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?
The decision of how and when to be out is a very personal one, and I don’t think one answer would apply to everyone. A lot of people feel great relief once out, and for us being out in all aspects of our lives has become an important part of our happiness.
Did you have any memorable LGBTQ mentors?
No, neither one of us did. We made our own ways during times and in places where it wasn’t as accepted as it is now. Becoming comfortable with one’s self can be a daunting process for any number of reasons, being gay is just one of them.
What are your thoughts on the current climate for the LGBTQ community (e.g. with regards to our current status, rights, struggles).
I think the climate for the LGBTQ community is warming socially, although our current rights are still not guaranteed in every state. I think that the fight for understanding, support and respect is slowest for transgendered people, but hopefully time will continue to bring advances.
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?
The vast majority of our interactions within our profession have been positive. I believe the veterinary community is ahead of its time in its acceptance of LGBTQ people. There are still individuals, however, that do not accept us or approve of what we are doing, but it seems their numbers get smaller each year!
Could you describe the experience you went through putting both of your names on your child's birth certificate. What do you think it means for future same-sex parents?
It was an amazing experience to be considered married by the state of TN at the time of Emilia’s birth. It allowed us to not worry so much during labor and delivery about the right to make decisions for mom and baby, etc. And it allowed us both to put our names on Emilia’s birth certificate to signify that we are both her parents. She has my last name; a first in the state of TN. A lot has happened on the legal front since the Windsor decision in 2013 and many states now recognize same sex marriage, so both parents being put on the birth certificate is now a reality in a lot of places. In the south and some of the Midwest there is still work to be done so that same sex couples have the same rights as straight couples in that regard (and many regards).
Are you at all worried about how much time the case may take up? Is the case still ongoing with appeals?
Yes, the case sometimes takes a lot of time, especially now that we are going to the Supreme Court. It’s time we are happy to give for the cause though. We have been humbled to represent so many people so we never begrudge the time it might take.
Do you have any advice for students and other veterinarians who feel that they don't have the time or energy for LGBT activism?
Not everyone can be an activist, but the idea that activism needs to be big and bold is untrue. Being an activist might just be coming out to friends or coworkers and representing our community well. A lot of change happens at the grass roots or personal level, and in that way most of us are activists.
As new parents, do you have any advice for people concerned with their work-life balance in the veterinary profession?
Work-life balance can be a constant struggle for any working parent, and it certainly is for us. We try to do well by our jobs, but we also have limits of what we are willing to do. It would be very unusual for us both not to be home for dinner, bath and bed time with Emilia. No job is worth missing family time, especially if you have kids.
What is your favorite non-veterinary pastime?
Doing things with Emilia is our favorite pastime. We also have an old house that we are constantly doing projects on. It’s very satisfying to work on your own house. We have redone ceilings, painted walls, made furniture, replaced and painted decks, dug up the backyard with a bulldozer and planted grass, set up filtration for a koi pond, etc.
We hope the Supreme Court makes the right decision this June!