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Penn Medicine appoints first medical director of LGBTQ health

Kevin Kline, a family medicine physician, wants to create a clear understanding of what it means for a provider to be "LGBTQ affirming."

The University of Pennsylvania appointed its first systemwide medical director for LGBTQ health.
The University of Pennsylvania appointed its first systemwide medical director for LGBTQ health.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

Penn Medicine appointed its first medical director of LGBTQ health.

Kevin Kline, a family medicine physician, moved into the new role this summer. Kline has been at Penn since 2015. In addition to treating his own patients, he has served as the director of LGBTQ health in the department of family medicine and community health.

Kline said the need for a systemwide LGBTQ health leader became evident last summer as mpox, the virus formerly known as monkeypox, infected a growing number of men who have sex with men. Penn launched a vaccination campaign, but it wasn’t clear who should be responsible for the effort. (The effort was still effective, Klein said.)

In his new role, Kline is prepared to take the lead if another crisis like mpox arises. He also wants Penn to provide a consistently high level of care to all LGBTQ patients.

“We can actually have more of a clinical vision for Penn Medicine of what this care can and should look like,” he said.

The Inquirer spoke to Kline about why a health system needs a director of LGBTQ health, what he hopes to achieve in his new role, and his concerns about politicization of care.

Affirming across the board in care

Historically, most hospitals have approached LGBTQ health by opening a dedicated center or clinic for this population of patients, Kline said. Penn is joining a growing number of hospitals moving away from this model. The shift recognizes LGBTQ health as part of overall health care, and not a siloed field or location.

“The goal would be that [patients] go anywhere in the health system and get the same quality of care,” he said.

Part of Kline’s job is ensuring that physicians and other medical staffers are aware of all the resources available for LGBTQ patients, including within the Penn system. That ranges from medications to reduce the risk of HIV infection, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, to hormone management.

» READ MORE: Philly hospitals lack formalized training for providers who designate as LGBTQ-affirming

Kline also wants to create a clear understanding of what it means when medical providers call themselves “LGBTQ-affirming.”

Many physicians and clinics advertise themselves as affirming, but an Inquirer survey of area hospitals found little in terms of formal training or qualification to back the designation.

“One of our short-term goals is to have actual standards for our providers to say that they’re LGBTQ+ affirming,” Kline said.

Through a pilot launching this month, Penn will review whether selected providers meet the health system’s new qualifications for being deemed an LGBTQ-affirming provider. These criteria include determining whether they have formal education in LGBTQ health, have attended conferences or continuing education related to the field, or have historically cared for this population.

The goal is to have a vetted list of LGBTQ-affirming providers at Penn, which Kline hopes will grow over time.

Not backing down

LGBTQ health has been thrust into politics in recent years, and many Republican-controlled states restricted health care for transgender youths. Kline sees it as a push to undo progress made over the years in LGBTQ-affirming health care.

He noted that he did have some worries about becoming the face of LGBTQ health in a large health system at a time when youth gender clinics, including in Philadelphia, have been the target of violent threats.

Before taking the position, Kline thought about how it might impact his life and his family. He expects some homophobic and hateful comments. But he also sees a large health system like Penn supporting his efforts and patients.

“This is work to treat patients that historically have not been able to access care,” Kline said. “It has to be done.”