A gay San Francisco doctor who primarily provides care to low-income transgender women and people living with HIV/AIDS was honored last weekend by Equality California.
Dr. Royce Lin, 39, accepted the first-ever State Farm Good Neighbor Award at the statewide LGBT lobbying group's Saturday, April 14 gala at the Fairmont Hotel.
Lin told attendees he's felt lucky to be able to reach out to those "whose voices so often go unheard."
"Our clients are among the bravest, most tenacious, and generous people I know," he added.
Among other positions, Lin works at the Ward 86 HIV clinic at San Francisco General Hospital and for the Tom Waddell Health Center's Transgender Clinic.
Equality California board President Clarissa Filgioun said in a statement that Lin "provides a lifeline for marginalized gay and transgender people who often lack access to basic health care or for whom a trip to the doctor can be a traumatic experience because of a lack of culturally competent health care providers who understand and empathize with the unique health care needs of LGBT people."
Lin told the crowd, "It is not I who deserve this award," saying there are many people doing similar work "day in and day out."
A doctor since 2000, Lin said in a phone interview that he chose the profession because "as a gay man coming of age during the height of the AIDS epidemic, I was always drawn to the way that our community gathered" in response.
"It was not just for the science, but really the story, the heroism of people who are affected by HIV, and it was a great fit for me," said Lin. "HIV is something that certainly has affected my life, as well, so to be able to help others is something that's tremendously rewarding."
Lin attended college in Boston in the early 1990s. He said that among the memories that stand out to him are volunteering at Fenway Health, which provides HIV care and other services.
He recalled "trying to navigate being a sexually active gay man during a time when there was a lot that was unknown, a lot of fear. It really made me feel that I had a duty and obligation to my community to really give back, and medicine was a route for me to do that."
Lin has been a physician at Ward 86 since 2004, where the vast majority of patients either has no insurance or receives public safety net coverage through Medi-Cal or other forms.
Many of the ward's patients are from communities of color, and many are monolingual Spanish or Chinese speakers, said Lin, who speaks both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Most of the clients are gay men, he said.
Lin has worked for the Waddell center since 2011 and sees patients in the Transgender Clinic. There, problems facing many people include HIV, poverty, and discrimination. He said a number of the clients are engaged in commercial sex work.
As a Waddell center employee, Lin also has provided medical care out of Tenderloin Health's offices three days a week. He said many of those clients "suffer from a great deal of trauma and have a very difficult time navigating a conventional medical system." Many of the patients there are homeless or marginally housed and struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues. The city has been working to ensure Tenderloin Health's former clients continue to receive care in the aftermath of the agency's closure.
Lin said there's "absolutely" still a lot of stigma around HIV.
"I think stigma is really the big killer," he said. "I think when I see people do poorly, oftentimes it's stigma and the silence and the shame that really leads to a poor outcome." He said that he and other care providers see many people "because of stigma not access care until very, very late in the course" of the disease.
Also Saturday night, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) accepted Equality California's Leadership Award. Feinstein is the author of the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.
At the gala, the JC Penney Company received EQCA's Corporate Responsibility Award. The retailer withstood pressure from anti-gay activists earlier this year when it announced that out daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres would be its new spokeswoman.
According to EQCA spokeswoman Rebekah Orr, this year's San Francisco Equality Awards drew 466 guests and raised $255,000.
It's been a tumultuous year for Equality California. Among other problems, the group saw its former Executive Director Roland Palencia resign after just three months. Interim Executive Director Laurie Hasencamp was brought on board in late February and was at the gala Saturday night.
Orr said, "After a really tough year, I think it was good ... to remind people we're still here, we're still doing this work, here's the direction we're going, and their investment in the organization has made a difference."