Physician, Educator, and Pioneer Carla Lupi, MD

 In: Articles

Carla Lupi MDCarla Lupi, MD, began her public and professional journey into the intersection of lesbian rights and feminism during her early 1970s high school years, when she participated in debate competitions provocatively advocating for unlimited access to contraceptives for minors. (For more context, this was only six years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of access for married heterosexuals!) Shortly after arriving at Stanford University, Dr. Lupi became active in radical feminist political activities, leading women’s gynecologic self-help groups and other sexuality education efforts, participating in feminist consciousness-raising groups, supporting abortion rights, and working at intersections such as the anti-apartheid divestiture movement.

She has always believed that full acceptance of and legal equality for everyone, and everyone on the spectrum of sexuality and gender must include full reproductive autonomy across the same spectrum. She has lived a commitment to this belief throughout her career as a physician and medical educator, and in her personal life as a life partner to Raquel Matas and mother to Camila Matas Lupi.

In medical school in San Francisco in the early 1980s, she was among the first generation of medical trainees to work in the depths of the AIDs epidemic. She remains grateful for the opportunity to have worked with medical faculty and other health care professionals who rallied to provide compassionate care at a dark time when no cures or modulators of the disease were available. Upon coming to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1986 as a resident in obstetrics and gynecology (and to begin living with her partner Raquel), Dr. Lupi found the situation much more mixed. For example, she was one of only two residents at that time who would provide abortions at JMH for women diagnosed with HIV. The overt homophobia amongst some medical staff toward gay men with the disease—as well as the sexism, racism, and classism directed at the rapidly increasing number of poor and inner-city women with HIV—left her with a profound commitment to do the best possible by her own patients and to model this for the students and junior residents she supervised then and for the remainder of her career. Those experiences have fueled her current work in medical education to ensure that future generations of physicians nurture the empathy and compassion required to care for all patients, especially those with less power.

Sensing the potential backlashes of being an out lesbian early in her residency, before her own medical and surgical credibility were established, she finally came out professionally as a lesbian after three years of residency. Upon finishing training, she was at first offered a position in a prominent community practice, only to have the offer rescinded upon coming out to the group because of concerns about “the reputation of the practice.” She ultimately found her way to working with Judith Pardo, MD, on Miami Beach, becoming the first out lesbian MD obstetrician-gynecologist in South Florida. She and her partners were among the first to care for HIV-positive women in the private medical community (as other doctors often refused to care for them), and to provide insemination and pregnancy care to lesbians. She became involved with GYNA, a group advocating for the health rights of lesbian and bisexual women. She and other GYNA leaders successfully applied for a grant from the San Francisco–based Lesbian Health Foundation to survey the needs of lesbian and bisexual women in Miami-Dade County, an effort that involved bringing together support and activist groups of lesbian and bisexual women from a variety of communities. In the 1990s, while in private practice, she also served in a consultancy role as the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Miami and the Florida Keys.

Dr. Lupi shifted her professional emphasis from patient care to medical education shortly after joining the faculty of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in 2003 and brought to this work her passion for improving health care for women and sexual minorities through education. She has developed nationally distributed curricula and has taught and modeled critical skills in patient care for both students and residents, including inclusive sexual-history taking, sensitive patient examination, the ethics of reproductive and sexual health care, and critical analysis of reproductive-health literature. With a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, she established the first formal residency-training service in family planning and abortion at the University of Miami, which has expanded to include the care of transgender people. She also was among the first to call attention to the lack of lesbian patient “vignettes” in the highly influential licensing examinations taken by all U.S. medical students; she has since worked with the National Board of Medical Examiners for several years to close this gap.

Upon moving to the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in 2010, Dr. Lupi found herself collaborating with other educators and activist students to ensure strong curricula in sexual and reproductive health. She also continued to serve as a mentor and advisor to gay and lesbian students, and to those committed to providing abortion care.

Now in yet another new role as an associate dean working in the planning stages for the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in Pasadena, CA, she is embracing the innovative challenges of working in a new paradigm that includes a commitment to infusing both the curriculum and the institutional culture with the principles of equity, inclusion, and diversity. With a highly diverse leadership team including immensely talented and highly accomplished openly gay colleagues, she is confident that they will succeed in this all-important effort.

On the personal side, she joined the earlier wave of “the lesbian baby boom” in 1996 when she and her partner became mothers to their amazing daughter Camila, who is now nearing graduation from Brown University. Carla is immensely proud of Camila’s love of biology and her commitments to human well-being and the environment. Like other lesbian moms, she and Raquel intentionally worked to be out parents in the largely heterosexual world of parenting. They were fortunate to find UCC Coral Gables Congregational Church Early Childhood Center— an open environment where staff embraced learning about dealing with non-gender-conforming behavior and diverse families—as Camila’s preschool. Carla, Camila, and Raquel continue as members and supporters of this wonderful church family. With Raquel’s initiation, acumen, and hard work behind it all, Carla has also contributed to establishing a presence for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in South Florida. Finally, she has been immensely fortunate to have behind her for many decades loving and accepting parents and the family of her sister Valerie.

Raquel Matas