“I think what I like about my career or my current situation now is that I’m able to provide a voice for those who have never been heard for a long, long time,” said Jackie Baras, this week’s Homegrown Hero.
Baras is a transgender woman and a Quality Nurse Manager of Perioperative Services and Clinical Anesthesia Manager for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She’s both well respected as Nurse Leader and TransRights advocate in RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH) and community. Also, she’s recognized as one of the most dynamic speakers, resource experts and leaders in Nursing and the LGBTQIA community.
Among the many things Jackie has helped create for the LGBTQIA community in New Jersey, there are two that significantly stand out. She’s the pioneer in establishing the first LGBTQIA hospital based primary care clinic in the state, called PROUD Family Health at RWJ Somerset. And early last year, she launched the first Education and Support group called PROUDLY ME, an “Eduport”’ program in RWJ New Brunswick.
One of the reasons she worked to get PROUD Family Health at RWJ Somerset started was the fact that she had to go to New York or Pennsylvania to seek healthcare needs, treatment or even the routine medical visit.
“I utilized my voice and my platform to say, ‘We need to do something about this.’ It's not just about me as your employee, but about the community. But of course in the beginning, there was a lot of resistance or hesitation to even accommodate the idea of having the LGBTQIA clinic here because we do not have the data to say how many LGBTQIA are in New Jersey,” said Baras. “It's all anecdotal. It's all based on statistics, but we do not have any strong data to say this is the number of it. So when we started it, we started the program very slowly, which means we just opened the clinic every Monday night, 7-9 p.m.”
But then the numbers saw a big jump.
“Then they started seeing an increase in numbers, in fact, before the end of the first year, before the anniversary, it has been documented that they saw almost 1,000 patients”, she said. “So after that, they then realized this is a program that it’s worth to invest in. This program addresses the social disparities, particularly health disparities among the LGBTQIA . So now, Family Health is open Monday through Friday, and they are doing very, very well.”
During the last months, PROUDLY ME, the Eduport program has met virtually. Jackie says that the program is averaging 40-50 attendees. The first hour covers education, and the second covers support.
“PROUDLY ME is the support group that I'm facilitating every second Thursday of the month. The beauty of this is that it’s different from most of the other support groups that you may be aware of or you may know,” said Baras. “When you say a support group that you go in, you sit down and then you just share your feelings, your thoughts, your ideas on a certain topic or just a question and answer, but PROUDLY ME is an eduport program. It’s a program that combines education and support, that’s why I call it eduport. Why education support program?
“Well, it’s from the idea that I've been quite blessed to have a good life journey and life experiences as a transgender woman, although I have some negative experiences as well. But I think when I was starting as a transgender woman or I transitioned at work, you know, there are no resources, there are no places to learn what should I do now, you know, if I want to have hormones, where should I go? Or what dress should I put? Or how to put makeup? How to blend with people?
“Those are things that I experienced as my challenge. So when I created PROUDLY ME, it was to give an avenue, particularly a platform for a lot of transgender individuals or nonbinary to learn the different resources available in the country or in the state of New Jersey. Because of my strong network to the community like Garden State Equality, you have the HiTOPS, you know, the Pride Center of New Jersey, I gave them also an opportunity, a platform, to share what they do as an organization. So it’s like bridging the gap between the community, and the resources available because trust me, not everyone may be aware of what resources are available out there.”
The best way for our club to support the LGBTQIA community is to be “very visible,” says Jackie.
“You may want to do an advertisement for the soccer team, and maybe you may want to include not just your members of the soccer team, but include or post someone who is probably members of the LGBTQIA and are members of the soccer team,” she said. “I think that’s already a very great way to show your support. It’s not always about finances. It's not always about you know speaking up, but you know, doing your marketing stuff showing your support, instead of men, women. There are so many ways by which you can show support.”
On top of her work with the LGBTQIA community, Baras was on the frontlines during the peak of COVID-19 in New Jersey. She says that they recently resumed all surgery. Her niece was diagnosed with COVID-19, but she’s now recovering from her rehab.
Baras, who’s Filipina and President-Elect of the Philippine Nurses Association of New Jersey, has a quote that marks her.
“When they ask me, Jackie, why are you fighting for this, are you fighting for equality? And my answer is no, I don’t fight for equality,” she explained. “The reason for that is because we can never attain equality. Everybody has been fighting for equality for a very, very long time, and I still don't believe there will be equality.
“So I’m not only transgender woman, I’m also Asian. I’m a Filipina, English is my second language, so I will never be equal with anyone who was born here. I’ll never be equal to anyone who’s Caucasian. I will never be equal to someone who probably has a lot of money. I said I won’t fight for equality because of those reasons, but I will fight for humanity. Because we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Because humanity is different, we can always achieve how to be human, treating each other with kindness and love.”