Dr Kate Toyer passionately believes that embracing diversity and inclusion is of immense value to society, business and the veterinary profession. By Kerryn Ramsey
Dr Kate Toyer is a veterinarian, wife and father of three children. For the past three years, she has been living as a transgender woman while running a thriving practice.
“I had been conflicted about my gender for most of my life,” says Dr Toyer. “It got to the point where it was simply unbearable and I could no longer keep it a secret. It was a difficult moment when I told my wife—and at that stage she had no idea—that I was not a regular male.”
Dr Toyer is now helping others in the profession as the president of the Australian Rainbow Vets and Allies (ARVA), a support and advocacy group for LGBTQI vets in Australia and New Zealand. While ARVA is focused on LGBTQI issues, they also support efforts to promote cultural, physical and neurological diversity.
“We know from numerous studies that embracing diversity dramatically improves business, emotional intelligence and happiness of employers, employees and clients,” says Dr Toyer. “At a macro level, embracing a culture of diversity enables new and emerging leaders who contribute different and often novel approaches to problems.”
Dr Toyer is putting the word out in one of the wildest, glitziest ways—on a float at the upcoming Sydney Mardi Gras on 2 March. “When the committee approved our float application, that was a real positive for us,” says Dr Toyer. “The Mardi Gras Parade is a huge deal within the LGBTQI community and a huge deal generally. It will really help spread our message.”
Dr Toyer and her wife, Dr Tara Cashman, own and run Eurocoast Veterinary Centre in Batemans Bay, NSW. They started and completed their veterinary degree together at the University of Sydney, dating during their fifth year at university before getting married one year after graduating. Now, after 22 years of marriage, they have three children, aged 18, 12 and eight.
Moving to Batemans Bay in 2000, they entered into partnership with a local practice owner. In 2013 they bought out the original owner and have run their small animal practice ever since.
Kate had struggled with gender her entire life. She did what a lot of transgender people do—buried her feelings deep. “Finally, in 2011, I had a very, very long conversation with Tara,” she recalls. “There were tears, more conversations, more tears and a lot of soul searching. It was a confusing time but the one thing of which I was convinced was that I was still desperately, completely and absolutely in love with Tara.”
The couple reached a point in 2014 where Kate decided to fully transition. The process is fairly gradual with a number of social and medical processes undertaken. Kate began testing the waters, as it were, and started going out in public, presenting as a female.
“Towards the end of the transition process, there was a time where I was very much living a dual life,” says Dr Toyer. “At work I was a person called Adam but at home I would be myself, Kate. It became a very difficult dichotomy to maintain.”
By early 2015, Kate began taking hormone therapies. The plan was to live as her true self by January 2016. However, things were progressing so well that she started a soft transition in September 2015 by handing out a letter to visiting clients and speaking with her staff.
“The letter explained to clients what was happening and what was going to happen. Apart from that, we would look after their animals in exactly the same way. The only difference would be that Adam will now be known as Kate.”
The question was, how would the people of this small town on NSW’s South Coast react? “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive,” says Dr Toyer. “In particular, our older clients were fantastic. They’d give me hugs. The most negative reaction I received was people saying, ‘Oh, okay’, because they weren’t quite sure what to say.”
Then a little country gossip about the vet started down at the shops. The stories were quite impressive. Adam had left Tara and his sister had come to work at the clinic. Kate was actually Adam’s new wife.
“People were trying to construct a narrative from a limited amount of information,” says Dr Toyer. “At this point, Tara and I were not prepared to be on the receiving end of rumours so we emailed our entire client base and put up an explanatory post on Facebook.”
From that day forward, everyone knew Adam as Kate.
This is not to say that there were no negative reactions. The practice lost a few clients and there were certainly people who expressed their negative opinions.
“We hoped that everyone was on board but we also understood that not everyone would be comfortable,” says Dr Toyer. “We made it clear we were quite happy to forward on clinical records to a veterinarian of their choice.”
Dr Toyer feels she is now a happier and more empathetic vet who’s much better at communicating with people. Twelve months ago, she set up the Australian Rainbow Veterinary Allies as a support group for LGBTQI people in the industry.
The ARVA has been instrumental in getting the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) to adopt an Equality Inclusion and Diversity Policy. This policy also includes ethnic, racial, religious and physical diversities.
“If you’re a vet or a nurse or a front-office staff member who’s struggling with gender identity or sexuality, I encourage you to be true to yourself,” says Dr Toyer. “Stop trying to be what you think other people want you to be. Know that you are not alone.”
With a successful business, a supportive family and local community, Dr Toyer is like the poster child for transition. As she says, “You’ve only got one shot at this life, so why would you not try to be happy?”