Respected Family Physician & Champion Golfer Faced Employment Discrimination After Coming Out as Transgender
Several years ago, Dr. Bobbi Lancaster was working as a medical director for Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix Arizona. She sat down with her supervisor, intent on taking steps to live more openly and authentically than ever before.
For the past few years Bobbi had been coming to grips with an innate part of herself that she could no longer ignore – the fact that even though she was born as a boy and had lived almost 60 years as a male, she identified as a woman. Following years of hiding and depression, including a near suicide, she finally came to a realization: “I had to deal with this and live my life openly,” Bobbi said.
The hospice company had hired Bobbi as Dr. Bob. “ I was given a team and a list of hospice patients to care for,” she said. “My evaluations indicated that I was doing exceptional work, and my team admired me.”
“I have something to tell you,” Dr. Lancaster respectfully told her supervisor during the meeting. “I’m transgender – do you know what that means? I would like to continue my great work with Hospice of the Valley, but as Dr. Bobbi.”
Immediately the room went cold. Her supervisor suggested that this would be difficult. “Your team will lose respect for you once they find out about this!” he said.
Dr. Lancaster recalls disagreeing with the supervisor. “He told me to keep this matter between the two of us while he thought about my request.” Dr. Lancaster had already had private conversations with some of the team. They had asked questions about the physical changes they had been observing. “When I told them I was transgender, they were supportive and loving and told me I was so courageous,” Bobbi said.
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At a subsequent meeting, the supervisor stated that he had another objection about Dr. Lancaster’s transition request. “He told me ‘The dying patients and their families are stressed enough and don’t need the added burden of having a man in a dress make house calls on them,’ or something to that effect,” Bobbi said. “He told me, “Your patients are more rural, and a lot are farmers, and they won’t accept this sort of thing.”
Taken aback, Bobbi respectfully explained that outside of Hospice work, she had a small concierge practice and was seeing these private patients as a female. Dr. Lancaster explained that these patients were extremely wealthy and very socially conservative. “I had to sit down in their living rooms one by one and talk about my transition – and not one of them quit as a patient,” she told her supervisor. “They admire me and appreciate my medical skills and my compassionate demeanor. They do not object to my appearance. They just know that I really care about them.”
The supervisor didn’t seem swayed – he said he would talk to others in the organization and get back to Dr. Lancaster. “We hired you as Dr. Bob, and you must continue to show up for work as Dr. Bob,” he made clear, adding that Dr. Lancaster should not let the team see her as a female – even during non-work time, like at an upcoming private Christmas party. “He never made any effort to call me Bobbi or use correct pronouns,” she said.
Dr. Lancaster continued to show up for work as Dr. Bob for over 6 months, even though she was living the rest of her life as Bobbi. She feared losing this hospice job that she really enjoyed and that she was so skilled at. She also feared the financial crisis the loss of this job would create. She would tie her hair back and wear a breast binder and then go to work as a guy, because she needed the income. “It was so demeaning to have to dress a certain way for this supervisor so I could keep my job” she said. Dr. Lancaster requested a meeting with Human Resources and with the most senior officers of the organization, but the request was never granted. It was becoming harder and harder to deal with this dual life she felt forced to live.
Ultimately the supervisor decided that the company would no longer require Dr. Lancaster’s services – for business reasons, the supervisor said, the company had to stop serving the territory where Dr. Lancaster had been seeing patients. Even her team was going to be dissolved, and the employees were going to be re-assigned. He offered that perhaps in the future, they could give her a new team, where she could just look after LGBT hospice patients – and then everyone would feel comfortable.
Dr. Lancaster was skeptical that this imagined team would ever materialize, insulted at the insinuation that she would only fit in if she were kept away from non-LGBT patients. “I cherished working with those patients – but that was the end of my work as a hospice doctor,” Bobbi said. “And that was the start of my financial crisis.”
Later, Bobbi learned that a nurse practitioner was now seeing patients for Hospice of the Valley in her old territory.
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In many ways Bobbi is experiencing a second life. With her unexpected free time, she pursued her lifelong athletic hobby.
“Yes, I was crushed by the loss of the hospice job,” she said. “And my wife and I were struggling financially. I only had my small concierge business, and finding new work was proving difficult. I found relief by getting my golf clubs out. I was curious if I could still play.”
Years ago, living as Bob, she was a champion golfer. She had qualified for national championships and had captained teams to high school and university championships.
Bobbi quickly found out that she could still really play. After receiving approval from the United States Golf Association to compete as a transgender woman, she soon won a city championship and an invitational – and qualified for a national championship. There were complaints about her power, but ultimately she turned pro and was the first openly transgender woman to attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour in 2013 at 63 years of age. There was international media attention.
“My intent was to try to be the best player I could be,” Bobbi said. “But in telling my story, I received an incredible amount of correspondence. People were telling me that I had helped them and their families. Others told me they had set aside their prejudice about transgender people because of me.” Bobbi was now aware that she had become an advocate and a powerful agent of change. She became acutely aware of the struggles that the transgender population faces, especially transgender youth.
Now, Bobbi works tirelessly to get the word out that non-discrimination protections for LGBT are of great importance, including in Arizona, where LGBT people do not have any explicit state-level protections from discrimination. She volunteers with the Human Rights Campaign and is working with the Competitive Arizona coalition.
Bobbi said that she’s proud to have the love and support of her wife Lucy and her 3 children. Her elderly mother, her siblings, and all of her friends are happy to see her finally at peace.
It was not smooth sailing for Lucy. They were married 17 years ago when Bobbi was Bob. “It was really difficult. She wasn’t on board even up to the day of my reassignment surgery,” Bobbi said. “She finally visited me in hospital four days after the operation. During her four days alone, she had come to terms with everything and realized that even though I had changed physically, I was still the same person inside….only happier.”
Bobbi and Lucy remain a strong, very loving couple to this day. Being patient and allowing the special people in her life the time and space they needed to adjust to her transition, Bobbi said, made all the difference.
“I am hopeful for the future,” she said. “In my own small way, I am going to nudge the needle toward acceptance of transgender people in Arizona and everywhere. I am going to keep telling my story. And I am going to keep delivering my educational message as only a physician can. This is my issue. This is my time. I have to speak for those who have no voice.”