Dr. stef shuster discusses LGBTQ+ health with Dr. Anthony Fauci

October 26, 2023

MSU Sociology Associate Professor stef shuster shared a virtual stage with Dr. Anthony Fauci this week as part of a panel discussion on LGBTQ+  healthcare. Hosted by the LGBTQ+ Center at West Virginia University, Drs. shuster and Fauci discussed the past, present and future of healthcare over a Zoom webinar. 

Dr. Fauci is the former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). 

Dr. Anthony Fauci and professor stef shuster visited West Virginia University virtually on Tuesday evening in a conversation on the history of LGBTQ+ health care in the United States. The conversation was facilitated by Ellen Rodrigues, director of WVU’S LGBTQ+ Center.


"Dr. Fauci saved countless lives during over 50 years of work as physician-scientist, expert immunologist, former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and former chief medical advisor to the president (2021-2022). He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, for his work on the AIDS relief program PEPFAR." read the WVU release.

Dr. shuster is jointly appointed with Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Sociology in the College of Social Science at MSU. They are the author of “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender.”


West Virginia University released the following exchange from the event:

Throughout the speech, Ellen Rodrigues, director of WVU’s LGBTQ+ Center, facilitated the discussion with questions for Fauci and shuster. At the start of the event, Fauci discussed his decision to “devote his entire career” to studying HIV and AIDS.

When he began looking into the disease, he said he and the medical community were unsure what they were dealing with. This discouraged others in the medical field from researching the disease, because “some people thought it might just go away, that it was a fluke.”

“We didn’t know what it was, but it was almost certainly an infectious disease,” Fauci said. “I was really taken with a strong feeling of empathy for these young men between the ages of 20 and 35,” who were facing a public health crisis just as they began to discover the “ability to express their sexual identity.”

Rodrigues cited an increase in HIV cases in the Morgantown area, especially among transgender individuals and gay and bisexual men. shuster said that the “isolation of rural areas” has contributed to a lack of information among rural LGBTQ+ individuals.

Fauci said he was “shocked and dismayed” to hear cases of HIV are increasing in the Morgantown area, given that current medication renders the disease as “entirely preventable.”

shuster said that, “from a sociological perspective,” researchers have found there is “fatigue” surrounding conversations on sexual health risk mitigation. Because of this, “I share Dr. Fauci’s concern,” shuster said.

Fauci also suggested that limited access to treatment methods in the impacted community could contribute to the rise, given that individuals who take medicine to treat HIV are virtually unable to transmit the virus once the treatment renders their viral load of the disease “undetectable.”

Rodrigues said WVU itself has resources to treat HIV and AIDs, but “more has to be done in the state of West Virginia.”

Following a question from an audience member, Fauci and shuster went on to discuss the health implications of anti-transgender rhetoric in contemporary American politics.

shuster said they would like to see “legislators stop using youth, weaponizing their experiences in a way that minimizes their voices” to “gain political points,” shuster said. “I think it is a ridiculous conversation that is built upon misinformation.”

shuster said stigma in transgender health care also has the potential to discourage practitioners from pursuing careers providing gender affirming care.

Rodrigues asked Fauci and shuster how they approach backlash for producing “forward-thinking, groundbreaking work” in the field of health, given that new ideas in the health space often face scrutiny from other researchers and everyday citizens.

shuster said they go out of their way to ensure “any claims, however mundane or charged they might be” are always backed by data, using information to prove the legitimacy of their theories in public health spaces. shuster said they have witnessed health care outcomes improve, particularly for transgender individuals, when educational outreach is conducted with those who lack an understanding of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Often, being part of the public health community requires holding people accountable, but also helping them access education and understanding about important issues affecting LGBTQ community members to better support underserved communities.

Fauci said mounting frustrations over new medical theories, including those he proposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, come from a growing mistrust in public institutions.

“People don’t know who or what to believe, so they don’t believe anything,” he said. “That’s when you get chaos.”

“The only way around that is to try to be as articulate as you possibly can, with science-based evidence to back up what you said,” Fauci said.

shuster said communities historically marginalized by the U.S. health care system, including LGBTQ individuals, often feel a sense of mistrust in medical institutions. shuster asked Fauci how this trend arose in his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’ve got to respect their skepticism and reach out and try to overcome that skepticism,” Fauci said.

Fauci said “the historical mistreatment” of Black and Hispanic Americans in the field of medicine made many Americans wary of getting a COVID-19 vaccine in the early stages of the pandemic, which required more direct communication and outreach.

“There is a valid component to their concern,” Fauci said. “You have to really put an effort to reach out to the community.”

In a closing question, a member of the audience asked Fauci about the future of HIV health care, particularly among LGBTQ and rural communities.

Fauci said current researchers are working on an prophylactic injection that will allow sexually active individuals at risk for HIV infection to dramatically reduce their risk of contracting the disease for six months to one year.

While the time necessary to fully develop this injection is uncertain, Fauci expressed great hope for what this new form of treatment could offer at-risk communities.

“The idea that you can prevent an infection by an injection, I think is a big, big game changer for people who are at risk for HIV,” Fauci said.