Brandeis Alumni, Family and Friends

Alexis “Lexi” Matza ’98 Reflects on Pride Month

A quote from Alexis Matza that says "I have long felt a sense of social responsibility and sought opportunities to use my privilege, gifts, and hard work to address and heal injustice."

Alexis “Lexi” Matza ’98 is a feminist medical anthropologist and the deputy director of the LGBT Health Program for the Veterans Health Administration. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 2009. She lives in Hudson Valley, New York, with her partner, child and a chubby bulldog.

In honor of Pride Month, the Brandeis Alumni Association invited Alexis Matza to reflect on her experiences working with LGBT veterans.

As we enter Pride Month, there are some major milestones to celebrate when it comes to the Veterans Health Administration. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated health care system in North America, providing care at 1,255 health care facilities. Our office works to develop resources to support personalized, patient-driven, respectful, and welcoming health care for Veterans with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and related identities. LGBT veterans have faced stigma and discrimination, which can affect their health. As a health care institution, we work to make sure that veterans with LGBT and related identities know they are welcome at VHA. Some of the projects that I’ve been involved with that I am most proud of include the “We Serve All Who Served: Excellent care has no boundaries” poster campaign; policy and resources to increase access to prosthetics for transgender veterans; LGBT cultural competency trainings; and our online fact sheet series.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we're trying to balance the additional daily stressors of life without childcare, the collective grief, and gratitude. My partner, child and I are in a very fortunate position that we live semi-rurally in a house with a yard. We’re all healthy and very grateful for that. We’re trying to balance the additional daily stressors of life without childcare, the collective grief and gratitude. Professionally, veterans with LGBT and related identities can be more socially isolated and this can be exacerbated under social distancing protocols. LGBT veterans also experience health disparities for underlying conditions that may put them at higher risk for coronavirus complications. Our office is working to make sure staff know these additional risks for LGBT veterans and sharing resources to help staff cope effectively with their additional stress.

I have long felt a sense of social responsibility and sought opportunities to use my privilege, gifts and hard work to address and heal injustice. A few years after Brandeis, I went back to school to get a doctorate in anthropology to learn how to conduct collaborative qualitative research within LGBT communities as an activist-academic. When I was hired at VHA in 2012, I realized that I could more directly enact change by helping develop policy and programs for LGBT veterans as well as training materials for providers and staff. The LGBT Health Program has helped VHA become a recognized leader in providing respectful, high-quality care to veterans with LGBT and related identities. I’m glad to know that LGBT veterans who may have experienced discrimination in the health care environment can expect to be treated better at the VHA where “we serve all who served.”

The VHA has very inclusive health care policies including non-discrimination (including sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) and a broad definition of family. In addition, our two health care policies for LGBT veterans remain major milestones: VHA Directive 1340: Health Care for Veterans who Identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and VHA Directive 1341: Providing Health Care for Transgender and Intersex Veterans. Since March 2016 we have had at least one LGBT veteran care coordinator at each VA medical facility to ensure LGBT-relevant services, educate staff and create a more welcoming clinical environment.

One issue where I’d like to see more progress is our ability to count the number of LGBT veterans using the VHA. Our current medical record system does not have fully functioning sexual orientation or gender identity fields, which are essential to this task. However, the VA is currently implementing a new medical record system, and I (alongside many others) have been working hard to shape this new system to best meet the needs of veterans with LGBT and related identities, including fully functioning sexual orientation and gender identity fields.

I chose to attend Brandeis in large part due to its history of social justice pedagogy and student body. Academically, my experience writing my honors thesis in anthropology under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Lamb was instrumental in helping me realize the power of using my voice to expose social injustices. Socially, there was an experience I had on campus that ended up being very formative. In a Yiddish course, my professor gave me a lower grade on an assignment for using the “wrong” term due to her assumption I was writing about a boyfriend, not a girlfriend. This highlighted for me the heterosexism not just on the Brandeis campus, but in Jewish culture more broadly. In response, I developed a (perhaps heavy-handed) “one in every minyan” campus-wide poster campaign, trying to highlight the invisibility of LGBT people in our culture. (The poster referenced Alfred Kinsey’s work that “1 in 10” people were LGB, a popular refrain at the time). This action was met with homophobia from those unwilling or reluctant to accept this critique as well as enthusiastic support by those who felt validated by it. This opportunity was ultimately key to helping me discover who I wanted to be in the world–one who lays bare injustice even when it’s painful.

I’d like today’s Brandeis students to know that what you think about yourself, and how you feel about how you move through the world, is so much more important than what others think of you.

Read additional Pride Month reflections from Brandeis alumni.

Published On: June 5, 2020