Catalyst Magazine

Championing LGBTQIA+ Community: UMSOM’s Novak Serving on Maryland Commission

Wendy Novak
Wendy Novak has gained knowledge and skills from receiving a graduate certificate in intercultural leadership from the University of Maryland Graduate School and her pursuit of a degree in the school’s Master of Science in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership program, which she expects to complete in December. Photo by Matthew D’Agostino 

Wendy Novak, MS, is concerned about the rise in discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community, so she’s doing something about it. Novak, a research administrator at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), applied for and received an appointment to serve on the Maryland Commission on LGBTQIA+ Affairs. 

“I have observed an increase in fear of ‘others’ and a willingness to be openly hateful of certain identity groups in the last 10 years,” said Novak, who works in UMSOM’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “In addition, our K-12 public schools are under scrutiny by parent groups that had not previously been involved. Groups using ‘parents’ rights’ as a justification for the exclusion of minority groups have gained power over the last few years. 

“In my county, board of education meetings that were previously ignored have become a battleground over LGBTQIA+ inclusion. Parents had started paying attention and attending the meetings over concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic but now have transitioned to pushing an anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda.” 

The 21-member commission is tasked with assessing challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in Maryland, advocating for more inclusive policies, and working to end discriminatory practices in the state. Among its activities, the group is collecting data, studying best practices and policies, and providing testimony on issues concerning LGBTQ+ persons before legislative and administrative bodies. 

Novak brings her experiences as a mother of three to the commission as well as a 20-year administrative work history at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (2004-2012) and UMSOM (2012-present). She also has gained knowledge and skills from receiving a graduate certificate in intercultural leadership from the University of Maryland Graduate School and her pursuit of a degree in the school’s Master of Science in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership (MS-DEIL) program. She expects to complete the 31-credit program in December. 

Complex Challenges 

In the past few years, she has advocated for the support and affirmation of LGBTQ+ persons in public schools by learning about county, state, and federal laws and guidelines, writing and speaking to boards of education, and speaking in favor of supportive legislation to the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate.  

In her application to the commission, Novak wrote, “Kids are not born hateful. They are learning it from their parents and from communities. Our schools serve a major role in transmitting culture. Education and culture are inseparable. Our children learn values not only at home but also by observing the behavior of others. As a community, we should make sure children are receiving messages of acceptance and affirmation. 

“The challenges facing our LGBTQIA+ community are complex and layered,” Novak continued. “In addition to harassment in schools, they are more likely to experience intimate partner and sexual violence. There is still much work to be done in the legal system to make sure the laws are just. The intersectionality of identity is often ignored, leaving our LGBTQIA+ community to experience oppression due to membership in multiple marginalized groups.” 

Novak, who was appointed to a three-year term, says her experience in the MS-DEIL program is proving valuable in her role on the commission and has helped her better understand communications between cultures and how to improve conflict management.  

“The courses require substantial interaction with the other students, which has been helpful in understanding how identities are developed and change over time,” she said. “I am learning about the historical impact of public policies on the experiences of racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.  

“The program also requires a significant amount of writing, which has been helpful for communicating about issues related to the LGBTQIA+ community. The program is giving me the tools to be a more effective advocate and the skills needed to assess challenges and provide recommendations and best practices for LGBTQIA+ inclusion.” 

Passion and Knowledge 

Courtney J. Jones Carney, DPA, MBA, program director, Intercultural Leadership Graduate Certificate and MS-DEIL, Graduate School, says she and the program faculty are proud of Novak’s dedication to LGBTQ+ inclusion and advocacy. 

“Exacting statewide change through participation on invaluable commissions such as the Maryland Commission on LGBTQIA+ Affairs is in direct alignment with the call to informed action that is embedded in the MS-DEIL program,” said Jones Carney, who also is executive director, Intercultural Leadership and Engagement, Division of Student Affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore. “It is my hope that as a commissioner, Wendy will be able to combine her passion and knowledge to influence statewide policies and practices that have long-term positive impacts on LGBTQIA+ communities.” 

Learn more about the Maryland Commission on LGBTQIA+ Affairs. 

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Lou Cortina

Lou Cortina is director of editorial services in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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