Gartrell was the first lesbian on the Harvard Medical School faculty. She is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at University of California-San Francisco, where she has taught ethics and feminist theory. She is the author of over 50 original research reports on lesbian mental health and medical ethics. Her most recent book (co-edited with Dr. Esther Rothblum), is Everyday Mutinies: Funding Lesbian Activism (2001). She celebrated her 25th anniversary with her psychiatrist and filmmaker partner, Dee Mosbacher.
Nanette Gartrell has influenced the perception of lesbians within the psychiatric profession and other cultural institutions. During the last 25 years, she has conducted and published landmark research on lesbians, including a survey of psychiatrists' attitudes, demonstration that lesbians have normal testosterone levels, and currently, a nationwide, longitudinal study of children of lesbians.
Dr. Gartrell headed an American Psychiatric Association task force that developed a non-homophobic curriculum on the psychology of women for psychiatric residency programs. She also performed an investigation of sexual abuse of women patients by male psychiatrists, the results of which were used to develop legal sanctions against physician misconduct.
Because traditional funding agencies do not often support such non-mainstream research, Dr. Gartrell has used income from her private psychiatric practice to support her studies.
In addition to her research, she has been a tireless activist both for lesbian physicians and in the larger community. For five years she organized the annual Butch-Femme tennis tournament, which has raised close to $100,000 for the Lyon-Martin Clinic.
Nanette Gartrell has examined the effects of discrimination on lesbian mothers and their children. She adds that recently declared and recently divorced lesbians may also have to confront external and internalized homophobia for the first time, and may be caught up in custody battles in which their sexual orientation is an issue (in many states, the law permits the removal of children from homes with a lesbian mother).
"Any sort of psychological or interpersonal struggle on the part of the mother is going to have an impact on the child," she notes. Lesbians who conceive through donor insemination, on the other hand, are largely free from such dilemmas.
Nanette Gartrell lives in San Francisco with her spouse Dr. Dee Mosbacher (they met in 1975) and two Maltese dogs.