Nurse Carolyn Innes: LGBTQ+ Pioneer

American Medical Staffing, Nurse Carolyn Innes

As we celebrate Pride Month, it is crucial to recognize the remarkable individuals who have played significant roles in shaping LGBTQ+ healthcare advocacy. One such trailblazer is E. Carolyn Innes, passionate activist and co-founder of the Gay Nurses Alliance (GNA). Her tireless efforts and groundbreaking initiatives have left an enduring impact on LGBTQ+ healthcare rights. In this blog, we explore Innes’ life and achievements, highlighting her transformative work within the healthcare profession. Early Life and Activism: Born in 1937 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carolyn Innes developed a strong commitment to social activism from a young age. Following her high school graduation, she pursued nursing and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State in 1970. Moreover, Innes furthered her education and obtained a Master’s degree in 1972. Throughout her life, she considered herself an “activist by association,” working alongside other prominent LGBTQ+ advocates. Founding the Gay Nurses Alliance: In 1973, Innes alongside friend David Waldron established the Gay Nurses Alliance (GNA) in Pennsylvania. The GNA aimed to raise awareness about the presence of gay nurses and advocate for their civil rights. Additionally, it sought to fight for the medical rights of LGBTQ+ patients and provide a platform for discussion. National Recognition and Impact: In June 1974, Innes and Waldron introduced the Gay Nurses Alliance to a national audience at the American Nurses Association convention in San Francisco. Their symposium, “Gay People/Straight Health Care,” shed light on the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals within the healthcare system. Innes’ unwavering commitment to equal treatment and her fight against discrimination garnered significant attention and support. The AIDS Epidemic and Continuing Activism: The emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s played a pivotal role in the coming-out process for lesbian nurses. Undeterred by the challenges,  Innes remained dedicated to her activism, helping to organize the first gay pride parade in San Diego. Furthermore, she served as the Director of the Gay Center in San Francisco. In 1984, Innes relocated to the east coast to focus on a career in hospice care, continuing to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals in need. Innes’ visionary leadership and advocacy continue to inspire generations of healthcare professionals, reminding us of the importance of compassionate and inclusive care for all individuals. Her remarkable journey as a co-founder of the Gay Nurses Alliance, coupled with her ongoing commitment to activism stands as a testament to the profound influence individuals can have in effecting meaningful change. As we celebrate Pride Month, let us honor the groundbreaking contributions of Carolyn Innes and other LGBTQ+ healthcare pioneers. Together, we can work towards building a more inclusive and affirming healthcare system that respects the rights and dignity of every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For more, watch this 2014 interview with Innes, created as a part of  Smith College’s Documenting Lesbian Lives Oral History Project.