LGBTQ+ Discrimination: Personal and Professional Experiences
Since graduating from studying Human Geography at the University of Reading two years ago, Louise has settled into her role as a Staff Engagement and Equality Officer at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW). From her work in this NHS role, and from her personal experiences as a bisexual woman, Louise gives a thought-provoking account of some of the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community in everyday life, in the workplace and in the health care service. She also talks about some of the initiatives the NHS are focused on to fix these problems.
What is the role of your department?
My department of Staff Engagement and Equality comes under Human Resources. The role of our department is to make MTW a good place to work, and we focus on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Welfare. As a department, we want everyone who works for MTW to be able to bring their whole selves to work and enjoy working for MTW, so that they can then deliver the best patient care possible.
We are tasked with addressing the disparity issues within the NHS workforce (including cultural and ethnic minorities, LGBT+ and disabled staff) and we introduce welfare initiatives to help staff overall and work towards equality. Our responsibilities include advising on EDI and Welfare matters, training, running staff networks etc.
What are some of the issues that your department focus on?
As a result of the Black Lives Matter Movement, we have had a major emphasis on tackling racial issues. In the NHS, there has been research and data collection over the past 5 years through the Workforce Race Equality Standard, which highlights disparities between white and BAME staff – some of the issues include lack of career progression for BAME, lack of representation in the higher paid job roles, discrimination experienced towards BAME staff by both patients and staff. These are all deep-rooted, big problems to tackle. So, we are working on lots of different small and large programs and projects to fix this, which will ideally lead to a whole culture change within the NHS.
Alongside this, the pandemic has really highlighted the needs of our staff with disabilities and health conditions, and put their welfare very much at the forefront as an issue we need to tackle. Ensuring all staff have access to the right support for both their physical and mental health is also a key priority, because of the pandemic and the strain it has placed on the NHS.
Can you tell us about issues that the LGBTQ+ community might face in the workplace?
Our department has helped several LGBTQ+ staff members to solve discrimination they have experienced in our workplace because of their sexuality or gender identity. Unfortunately, it’s something that still happens regularly, and we want to find ways to resolve this. We aim to address the issues of micro-aggressions, staff feeling they are unable to be open about their sexuality because they are at work, and just the general lack of understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and the issues they face. We have plans that all the schemes we are currently working on for BAME staff, will be replicated in the future, but focusing on LGBTQ+ staff.
Photo: King’s College London
And what about in the health services?
The LGBTQ+ community experience huge disparities and inequalities when accessing healthcare. Many feel they will not be understood so don’t seek medical attention when needed. Trans people who have transitioned in any way often get missed off screening lists, due to the fact that the healthcare system is run on databases with very binary gender sections.
Many LGBTQ+ people have reported discrimination and harassment from healthcare professionals further putting them off. And lots of LGBTQ+ people who need mental health support will be on long waiting lists and therefore don’t get help when they need it. There are many other issues both general and on individual level and I believe that much of this comes down to a lack of education for the healthcare professionals. This is something that is being tackled by NHS England holistically and by teams like ours throughout the UK, but it will take considerable time and effort to become more widespread.
What motivates you?
My biggest motivation is that in my day-to-day work life, if I can inspire, help or educate one person, then I have done a good job. Although a big shift change within EDI will only happen with huge culture changes, if one member of staff can learn something from a conversation with me, a network meeting I have set up, or a training session I delivered, and they can then take that and use it within both their professional and personal life – then I have done a good job. In my team, we strongly believe in the ripple effect, that educating one person will lead to educating or bettering an experience for multiple people. So, the fact that I’m in a position to do that, motivates me and that is why my job is important. We try to celebrate both big and small wins for our department with this ethos in mind, so if I know I have helped at least one person, I will have made a difference.
From your personal experience, what are some of the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community? And how can people help?
I am very lucky to be surrounded by understanding friends and family, who have always supported and believed me when I say that I am bisexual – however, I have still experienced biphobia both from straight people and those within the LGBT+ community. I would describe this biphobia as mostly micro-aggressions – small things people have said which have belittled me, made my sexuality into something sexual, or something that I need to prove my being in relationships with both genders: lines like ‘’how do you have sex?’’ (with reference to two girls), to ‘’Oooh look at you going from one to the other’’ (with reference to me having a girlfriend and then getting a boyfriend), ‘’oh I thought you were gay’’ (again, in reference to me getting a boyfriend) to ‘’you are not bisexual, I think you are gay’’. None of these comments are meant with mal-intent, but being LGBT+ can be hard enough to get your head around and then hearing this multiple times a day can really grate on you. I encourage people to think a little more before they speak – would you say any of these things to a straight person? – and to let the LGBT+ person themselves bring up their sexuality in conversation, rather than you raising it. If you are good enough friends, they will bring it up on their own or explain it to you if the subject comes up.
Another issue is assumption. We all do it in all aspects of life, but we must really try not to! My mum told me recently that when she has told people I now have a boyfriend, (after having had a long-term relationship with a girl), many of them have said ‘’oh but I thought she was gay.’’ My mum explained to them: ‘’she said she was bisexual from the beginning, she never came out as gay, she just had a girlfriend.’’ This made me want to cry a little because it meant so much that she got it. But this proves my point, that we assume: because I had a girlfriend, I was assumed to be gay, and now I have a boyfriend, I am assumed to be straight. Despite me stating I was bisexual, many people erased that identity and just took me to be gay. Many LGBT+ people will go through a transitional period in which they will think they are bisexual and then realise they are gay BUT it is not a transitional period for everyone, and this way of thinking lead me to almost believe myself that I was gay, just because my first proper relationship was with a girl.
Why do you think your job is important to the wider community?
Healthcare is important to everyone, we will all access it many, many times throughout our lives. This means that lots of people can be impacted by the way a healthcare professional treats them, by something they see in a healthcare environment, and if staff are not healthy and happy then this will be felt by patients. So, by bettering the work lives of our staff, we are then bettering the experience of our patients.
What positive changes have been implemented since you started your job?
We are working on a White Ally Program, which I am very excited about! We are halfway through a Reverse Mentoring Program with BAME staff in lower pay bands mentoring white staff in upper pay bands. This is a program we plan to replicate with disabled and LGBT+ staff in the future. I am meeting with our head of Maternity to discuss implementing Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust Gender Inclusive Language within our trust’s maternity department, in order to make the trust more inclusive of trans service users.
What would you recommend if someone feels they are being discriminated against?
If you feel able to challenge that person in a productive way, then do it! By this, I mean explain to them how they are being discriminatory, in a calm and easy to understand way, to turn it into a learning opportunity. If you feel unable to challenge, or think it might be unsafe to do so, confide in someone you trust, who may be able to raise this or speak to the person for you. Even if they cannot help, it is always good to speak someone. You can also raise concerns with your HR department, and leverage internal staff networks or resources outside work for support and advocacy. (See useful resources at the end of this article).
What advice would you give someone wanting to educate themselves on LGBTQ+ matters?
My best advice is that no one can be fully inclusive or fully in-the-know at all times, but that is OK. I live by the quote by Maya Angelou: ‘’Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better’’. As long as you apologise for mistakes and have an open mind to learn from others, then you can’t go too wrong. However, I would say it is very important not to lean on those within the LGBT+ community for education, but instead to go and read up and research it for yourself. Most LGBT+ people will be more than happy to help by discussing their experiences and things LGBT+, but at the same time it isn’t their responsibility to educate you, you need to be doing that yourself.
What resources would you recommend?
Instagram is my go-to source of information. I find that I learn a lot from this app as any post can only be so long, so it’s easy to read and understand quickly. The following accounts are very informative:
Search online for helpful organisations relevant to your situation. Joining a network can be a good way to make connections, share information and find support. Here are a few suggestions, but do let us know if you can recommend other resources:
Stonewall campaigns for the equality of LGBTQ+ people across Britain, aiming for ‘a world where all LGBTQ+ people are free to be themselves and we can live our lives to the full.’
Black Young Professionals Network (BYP) was founded ‘to connect Black professionals and students from all over the world for role model visibility, career opportunities, business support and ultimately to solve our own problems’. It also has a dedicated careers site for new graduates and experienced hires.
Disability Rights are working for equal participation for all. They offer advice and information on career opportunities and independent living. They are seeking to change public attitudes and behaviours, tackling discrimination and hostility.
Stop Hate UK is working to challenge all forms of discrimination and hate crime, based on any aspect of an individual’s identity. They can provide independent, confidential support.
VERCIDA (stands for Values, Equality, Respect, Culture, Inclusion, Diversity, Accessiblity) is a platform that connects diverse talent with inclusive employers. As well as a jobs board and useful info, you’ll find a guide to various support organisations.
My name is Louise (she/her pronouns), I am 24, bisexual, have a degree in Human Geography and work for the NHS in an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion role! I am very passionate about all things EDI, always looking to learn more as this area is forever changing and adapting.
In my personal time love to work out, cook good food, go out for coffee and spend as much time as possible with my friends.
Find out more about problems in the workplace:
How to…Stand up to Workplace Bullies
What constitutes ‘bullying’ & what to do if it happens to you
Workplace Bullying – How to Cope
A psychotherapist explains how to take care of your mental health to minimise the impact of bullying & harassment