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LGBTQ+ history month gives us all the opportunity to demonstrate inclusive nursing practice and show much needed allyship to LGBTQ+ communities

Lisa Cordery 7 Feb 2022

I believe nurses are so powerfully prevalent at driving equality and inclusion forward into the future.

February is LGBTQ+ history month and it is as relevant in 2022 as it has always been. Remembering those who have fought for equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ communities and the key dates in the LGBTQ+ timeline reminds all of us how far we have come as a society but also how far we still have to go, to ensure our LGBTQ+ colleagues, friends, patients and general populations are able to live without discrimination or inequality because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 
This year’s theme “The Arc is Long” is inspired by a Martin Luther King quote: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ 

The quote is thought to mean that we are moving (albeit very slowly), towards becoming a society which upholds equality and justice. Recent developments in Wales have demonstrated a move in the right direction for LGBTQ+ rights. The first minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford stated “until every person can be their true self, living free from fear, we all still have work to do". Unfortunately, this remains the case. Many people cannot be themselves, cannot bring their authentic selves to work and some suffer significant health inequalities because they are LGBTQ+. There is still also, the very real risk of harm because of the homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia which remains present in the U.K. People still die from violence and hatred, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As I write this a trial is taking place in Cardiff, concerning the homophobic attack which resulted in the death of a local man. The danger remains, now in 2022. 

The health inequalities which face members of the LGBTQ+ community are well evidenced. Rates of smoking, substance use, self-harm and poor mental health are significantly higher as are the risks associated with delayed diagnoses for cancers. Screening is more likely to be delayed or missed because of previous negative experiences in healthcare, perceived or very real prejudiced attitudes from health staff and because our screening systems do not yet meet the needs of trans and non-binary people. LGBTQ+ people are over represented in the UK’s homeless population and many LGBTQ+ report employment discrimination and a pressure to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity secret. In short, the impact of being part of the LGBTQ+ community today still brings challenges, especially for trans people who face misinformed prejudice on a daily basis.

LGBTQ+ history is full of icons and trailblazers of the past. People who changed the world for others, sometimes at a high cost to themselves. Some are from our recent history and some continue to work constantly day in and out, giving their whole lives to push for the equality of LGBTQ+ people. There are too many to name in one blog but two who really stand out for me are Marsha P. Johnson and Lisa Power. Marsha P. Johnson was vivacious and energetic. Her presence, seen in film only now as she died in 1992 was spellbindingly hypnotic. Marsha P. Johnson a trans woman, was present when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a place of belonging for LGBTQ+ people and used excessive violence against them. She then led the protests which followed and founded an organisation to support LGBTQ+ people who had been made homeless. She is a key figure in LGBTQ+ history having spent her life helping others and fighting for some of the rights we have today. 

Lisa Power, a living icon was a co-founder of Stonewall, the charity named after the Stonewall riots. She worked at Switchboard during the height of the HIV epidemic and was the first openly LGBTQ+ person to speak at the United Nations in New York. Wherever there is positive change and another step towards LGBTQ+ equality, Lisa will be somewhere in the background which is where her humility makes her most comfortable or in the foreground with a banner. She is the epitome of an LGBTQ+ icon but dislikes the attention and warranted gratitude it brings. She is humble, strong and ridiculously intelligent but her biggest quality is her unending drive to achieve equal rights. 

Some LGBTQ+ history is recent because, unfortunately some harmful practices and laws have only recently been rescinded or (in the case of Conversion Therapy) are yet to be. It was as recently as 1992 that homosexuality was no longer classified as a mental disorder in the DSM-11. Before that people could suffer painful and humiliating treatments in an attempt to ‘cure’ them under the guise of medicine. It was only 2003 that section 28 was finally ended. Section 28 was enforced from 1988 by Margaret Thatcher to ban any mention of or ‘promotion’ of anything other than heterosexuality (and implied marriage) in schools. A law which, in our recent history affected the mental and physical health of so many people who had to hide who they were at an age where love and nurturing is vital to emotional and physical development. 

The progress towards equality for our trans and non-binary communities is slow. The ‘Arc’ which Martin Luther King spoke of is even longer for these communities who face a constant battle to simply be who they are. Much of the discrimination trans men and women and non-binary people face is routed in media fuelled inaccuracies and fear routed in mis-information and a lack of compassion.

So, what can nurses’ and allied health professionals do this month and every other month? LGBTQ+ history month gives us all the opportunity to demonstrate inclusive nursing practice and show much needed allyship to LGBTQ+ communities. We can educate ourselves by reading (or listening on audio formats) books such as ‘The Trans Gender Issue by Shon Faye’ , ‘Can everybody please calm down’ by Mae Martin. By watching ‘Disclosure’ on Netflix, ‘The Life and Death of Martha P. Johnson’ or ‘Stonewall Uprising (2010)’. We can add our pronouns to our email signatures and add them to our name badges, we can make a conscious effort not to make hetero or cis normative assumptions about colleagues or our patients.

From my very personal perspective, I would urge all my fellow nurses to understand the power you have to either put someone at ease or to alienate them by your language or even facial expressions. The sight of a badge, with the rainbow flag and the word ‘Ally’ once made a hugely positive difference to my own experience as a patient. I was instantly at ease. Another time, I was asked about my next of kin but there was no assumption that this would be a husband (unusually if I am honest) and it felt good at a time when I was nervous pre-operatively.

Our role as colleagues is key to the well-being of all LGBTQ+ staff. I will put this simply, banter and ‘jokes’ can hurt, really hurt even if we do not show it at the time. Alternatively, the support and freedom to be able to be myself in a work environment results in a much more productive me. I must say that on the whole, my colleagues are incredible and really want to learn. To be a nurse requires compassion and an understanding and interest in fellow human beings which is why, I believe nurses are so powerfully prevalent at driving equality and inclusion forward into the future.

Lisa Cordery

Lisa Cordery

RCN Wales Nurse of the Year 2019 Innovation in Nursing Runner up

Lisa has been a nurse since 2000, working in medicine, sexual health, HIV nursing and School Nursing. Lisa is also a midwife.

She has spent the last ten years leading a multi-agency team working with children and young people to empower them through education to avoid the harms associated with substance use. Lisa is as an Emotional Wellbeing Specialist Nurse (for children and young people)and is undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Advanced Healthcare at Cardiff University.

Page last updated - 27/05/2022