Relaying his story that spans from the paths of Andover to the naval bases of Afghanistan, Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld ’96, an anesthesiologist and proponent of LGBTQIA+ rights, spoke of his journey from a passive observer to a passionate advocate at Wednesday’s All School Meeting (ASM).
In 2014, Ehrenfeld served a tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a physician in the United States Navy. While on duty, he was called to attend to airman Logan Ireland, a transgender man whose inability to come forward with his identity began Ehrenfeld’s fight for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in the military.
“There I was in the middle of the desert with this transgender airman in front of me, because the last place you would expect to find somebody transgender was on a deployment… If he was found out, he’d be kicked out. Usually, when there was any kind of suspicion of some- thing going on in the chain of command, he would be put on medical hold,” said Ehrenfeld in his presentation.
Ehrenfeld’s friendship with Ireland led to his involvement with the Department of Defense, where he advocated to repeal restrictions against transgender military personnel, an effort that made international headlines.
In 2015, Ehrenfeld also starred in a commercial on same-sex marriage, sponsored by the national bipartisan organization “Freedom to Marry.” Tennessee news stations refused to run the ad due to its subject, earning the commercial even more media attention and, once again, bringing Ehrenfeld to the center of debate over LGBTQIA+ rights.
During his time at Andover, Ehrenfeld wasn’t fully aware of his sexual orientation and never really considered himself an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community. Even after he came out in college, he never saw himself or his husband, Judd Taback, as the kind of people who march in parades and publicly fight for LGBTQIA+ rights.
“When I thought about what an advocate was, that was the farthest thing that I saw in my- self… And yet, over the last three to five years, I’ve found myself in the middle of two fairly controversial issues that have, at their core, advocacy. One around the gay marriage debate, and two, the Department of Defense’s review of transgender service,” said Ehrenfeld in an interview with The Phillipian.
Ehrenfeld’s message of overcoming passivity for advocacy resonated with Andover students who may wish to someday champion their own causes.
“His story of just trying to get through Andover, work hard, and not worry about the peripherals is a common mantra that a lot of students repeat to them- selves here. [I agree with] this idea of being an ‘accidental advocate,’ ” said Arthur Paleologos ’17. “All of us will end up doing advocacy at one point or another in our lives. I think there’s no reason we shouldn’t start now.”
“Hopefully some kids took away the message that there’s more to Andover than just working hard, getting by, and graduating. That there’s a wide range of things to be an advocate about, and that is a truly remarkable thing,” Paleologos continued.
Manqoba Ngcobo ’19 said, “I thought it was a fantastic presentation. It really opened my eyes about equality and what it means to be an advocate, and it sheds some light on situations and the inequality that still exists in government and how [Ehrenfeld] was really influential in changing many, many things.”
Ehrenfeld also emphasized that everyone has the potential to lead a cause, push for a change, and make a difference in the world. He also discussed the importance of voicing opinions and standing up for what one believes in.
“What I’ve come to realize is that all of us are advocates… All of us have a commitment to a set of things in this world that we care deeply about. For me, that started here at An- dover. It was two words: Non Sibi… Words that mean that I have a personal responsibility to lead and to serve this world. All of us have the capacity to change the world… Each one of you sitting out there will have an impact,” said Ehrenfeld.
Ehrenfeld is currently an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Surgery, and Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine