Andre "AJ" Angelia, BSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, is a critical care nurse and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. AJ's dedication and expertise shine through in the demanding setting of a medical ICU. Beginning his career in spring 2019 in New Jersey, where he grew up, AJ embarked on his professional journey that led him to the role of a traveling nurse. At present, AJ is becoming a permanent staff member at a hospital in the Bay Area of California.
Why did you become a nurse?
With a Filipino heritage, my upbringing was surrounded by relatives deeply involved in the medical field. My mother, as well as several of my aunts and uncles, pursued careers as nurses, while my grandmother became a doctor. Their experiences and the immigrant story that brought our family from the Philippines to America greatly impacted my career choice. Although I was never directly pressured to enter the nursing profession, the environment I grew up in naturally guided me toward this path.
What was one of your most meaningful nursing moments?
For me, it was during the COVID pandemic. Many affected populations where I worked consisted of Spanish-speaking individuals, leading to communication barriers. One patient in particular, left a lasting impression on me. He was a long-term ICU patient with a tracheostomy, making communication extremely difficult. I was inspired to learn Spanish, enabling me to communicate without relying on a translator for every interaction. As a result, I formed a bond with this patient, caring for him during extended periods of his hospitalization. Eventually, the day arrived when he could be discharged. Witnessing his departure was a moment of triumph — a testament to our shared determination and resilience in the face of the pandemic.
Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, what does Pride Month mean to you?
Pride Month serves as an opportunity to reflect on the history of the queer movement in America, the struggles faced and the progress made over the past decades. Pride Month commemorates the June 28, 1969, Stonewall Riots in New York City led by activists Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie.
A standout moment for me was attending WorldPride in New York City in June 2019. I had just come out to my parents and the rest of my family that April, and my LGBTQ+ uncle, who has since passed away, took me and my family to New York City to celebrate. It was an incredible experience to be on a float, dancing and embracing my true self in the midst of my vulnerability. This memory encapsulates the essence of Pride Month for me, representing acceptance, freedom and the power of celebrating who we truly are.
How has being part of the LGBTQ+ community affected your nursing journey?
Being gay has impacted my nursing journey, particularly as it intersects with my Filipino cultural background and the contrasting norms in America. In the Philippines, it is widely accepted for men to pursue nursing as a profession, and there is no inherent assumption of being gay based on that choice. However, entering the nursing field in America, there are stereotypes associated with male nurses as being effeminate or gay. This challenged me as I navigated nursing school while remaining in the closet. The stigma surrounding masculinity and assumptions about sexual orientation often lingered in the back of my mind, leaving me questioning why people made those assumptions or felt the need to ask.
Another aspect of my journey as a nurse influenced by being gay is the practice of code-switching in the hospital environment. Code-switching refers to adapting one's language and manner of speaking depending on the people present. It can be both advantageous and challenging. Nevertheless, I have come to see code-switching as a defense mechanism, allowing me to navigate conversations without explicitly disclosing my sexuality, especially when interacting with certain populations in the hospital.
What challenges do you face as an LGBTQ+ nurse?
Coming out is not a one-time event but an ongoing process that I experience with each new encounter, whether meeting new people, taking care of patients or attending job interviews. It becomes a constant decision of when and how to disclose my identity. Despite the progress we have made, there is still the fear of judgment and how others will perceive me as I come out to them.
Although I have been fortunate enough to avoid experiencing discrimination, a lingering fear remains in my mind. Sharing that I have a boyfriend often becomes the gateway to revealing my identity, and I wonder how others will perceive me and my relationship. Despite these concerns, I know it's important to be authentic and true to myself. Filtering out those who cannot accept me is better than maintaining toxic relationships. As I grow older, I hope that nervousness will gradually fade away.
How do you feel healthcare can help create equality for LGBTQ+ workers?
They can make sure that the LGBTQ+ community is not just thought about as gay men. After all, LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and all other gender and sexual identities. All aspects of the LGBTQ+ community must be represented at all levels of an organization. This can foster a more nurturing and comfortable environment for everyone to work in.
Going beyond Pride Month for celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, healthcare organizations must recognize diverse communities throughout the year and reiterate that they are an integral part of the workplace. I think awareness of intersectionality is essential. It is hard to silo each other in a box. The intersectionality of my multiple identities, such as being Filipino and gay, has given me insight that you can't treat others or patients in a concrete way. There are always different perspectives. It is so important to celebrate all communities and recognize that understanding intersectionality is pivotal. My coming out now is already so different than it would have been 50 years ago. Continual visibility from an organizational standpoint is necessary to create acceptance.
Do you feel supported where you work, and how can other organizations show support?
I feel very supported at work when it comes to being myself. A lot of co-workers in my unit are part of the LGBTQ+ community, so that makes it so much easier. I know there are people with experience that can help me. It is liberating. At my current hospital, there is an intolerance for hate speech or violence against nurses from the organizational level. If a homophobic comment is made, the organization will step in and take action.
If other hospitals can enforce no tolerance for hate, it will make our jobs as nurses easier, knowing that we have support. Even better, if legislation can pass bills to protect nurses from hate and workplace violence, it will make our jobs much easier. We can then create a healthy environment for our patients since we have a healthy environment ourselves. Healthcare organizations can also show their support to staff and the community by partnering with a nonprofit or donating to a charity. This will help create visibility, which is crucial.
How do you feel inspired by other LGBTQ+ nurses, and what positive changes have you seen?
During Pride last year, my co-workers brought in rainbow flag pins. Some of us put the pins on our badges at work. Even after Pride Month ended, we still had these reminders. When I introduce myself to a patient and show my badge, they will see the flag. A co-worker who is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community may also have the same flag on their badge. This creates a standard of acceptance, whether spoken or unspoken.
For me, I get a warm feeling when I come to the hospital knowing this is the environment I get to work in. It reminds me of the term "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants." I get to work in an inclusive setting because of all those who advocated for us over the years. I am so grateful to those who chose to be open in the workplace, because I feel this is why I haven't faced discrimination and hate speech throughout my nursing career. It is great how the narrative has transformed over the past 50 years. This is something I cannot and will not take for granted.
What advice would you give to other LGBTQ+ individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in nursing?
Nursing is a great career. It is not as exclusive as it used to be. There is now a growing population of men and queer nurses. As time progresses, I only see nursing becoming more diverse and better because of that.
To close, how has AACN played a role in your career?
I have been a member of AACN since 2019 as a new grad. I have my CCRN and my CMC. I have learned so much through AACN and the community it has built. AACN has helped strengthen my clinical skills and the knowledge that I have. I can go onto AACN's website and get CEs or refresh the content I may be rusty on. AACN has also helped me prepare for interviews and exams.
For this year's NTI, I was an influencer and was so happy to be able to participate in person for the very first time. It was such a gift to interact with nurses from around the world and talk about different initiatives and how they were implemented, not to mention seeing all the latest and greatest gadgets, and attending incredible sessions. I am excited to share all the valuable information with my unit and co-workers.
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