Jake Kleinmahon ’07 and his family made national news when they decided to move because of anti-LGBTQ+ bills.

When the Louisiana State Legislature passed a series of anti-LGBTQ+ bills last spring, Jake Kleinmahon ’07 and his husband, Tom, made the difficult decision to move their family to a different state. Kleinmahon posted their announcement on Instagram with the intention of informing friends that they were leaving New Orleans, where they’d built a happy life for themselves and their two children. 

As the family planned their move to New York state and Kleinmahon prepared to become director of a new heart transplant program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island, he also accepted another new role: advocate.  

His Instagram post had unexpectedly gone viral, throwing Kleinmahon into the media spotlight last fall, when a prominent follower — CBS journalist David Begnaud, who is also from Louisiana and is also gay — reposted it on X. Begnaud’s repost rose to four million views. Soon, Kleinmahon was fielding interview requests and watching his family become the subject of CNN, NBC, Mother Jones, and People coverage, to name just a few. 

“At first, we were hesitant to talk to the media because we have young kids; we didn’t want to be a target of a hate crime,” Kleinmahon says. “But then we realized that we were given a platform we wouldn’t otherwise have. And while the situation was heartbreaking, it led to an opportunity to hopefully affect change and be a bigger part of the movement.” 

The news stories centered on the fact that Louisiana was losing one of only three pediatric heart transplant cardiologists in the state. Kleinmahon himself felt the tug of leaving his patients, especially because the specialized nature of his work requires ongoing care. “I’ve gone through so much with them, walking along their journey from needing a new heart and supporting them through that, to the heart-transplant wait list, to then taking care of them and their new heart after the transplant,” he says. “Many of them, I consider family.”

His patients expressed sadness and disappointment over the situation, Kleinmahon says. “When I told patients why I was leaving, it made the connection real to them — how these laws affect families and real people,” he says. “Every patient understood and supported me.”

Not all of the response has been positive, of course, and he has endured hateful comments both online and in letters. Some have suggested they “stick it out” in Louisiana. Kleinmahon’s response: “Have you ever had to sit down with your children and discuss why the state you live in is trying to make laws that are against your family or against your friends?” If not, “you can’t really understand what it feels like.”

He emphasizes that they hadn’t been “sitting quietly on the political sidelines.” Kleinmahon and his husband voted, encouraged their employers (the top-two largest in Louisiana) to lobby against the bills, called their senators, and emailed their representatives. “We watched hours of streaming video of legislative sessions on these bills, and we checked on progress daily from our phones,” he said during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign convention in Washington, D.C., last October. “If it seems like a lot of work simply to maintain equal rights and basic decency for our family, it is. The burden of waking up each day wondering what rights were targeted to be stripped away was simply exhausting.”

Kleinmahon attended Tulane University for medical school and completed his residency in Louisiana. He’d been the director of pediatric heart transplant and heart failure at Ochsner Hospital for Children since 2018. Another Colgate alumnus, Jon Sendach ’98, executive director of North Shore University Hospital, helped him find the job in New York when he decided to leave Louisiana. 

This isn’t the first time Colgate has written about Kleinmahon for telling his story publicly. In 2011, he participated in the nonprofit It Gets Better Project, which featured adults telling their coming-out stories to help gay teens. He then recounted his experience for an audience at the Colgate Bookstore. Just this past December, Kleinmahon was again in front of a Colgate audience as the keynote speaker for a Health and Wellness Network event in New York City. 

On a larger stage, Kleinmahon was named the 2023 recipient of the Equality Forum’s International Role Model Award (joining a list of previous honorees that includes Gavin Newsom, Martina Navratilova, and Pete Buttigieg). 

He used his platform a few weeks later at the Human Rights Campaign convention to encourage others: “Be an agent of change for the better. Please be someone who you’ll be proud of when you look back 5, 10, 20 years from now.”

Kleinmahon focused on premed at Colgate and majored in Spanish literature, in addition to serving on the Southern Madison County Ambulance Corps.