Career advice

LGBT equality: mind your language

Remember that married no longer necessarily means heterosexual. A little care with language can help promote a much more inclusive atmosphere.

Remember that married no longer necessarily means heterosexual. A little care with language can help to promote a much more inclusive atmosphere

Think about the language you use and the preconceived ideas you have that may alienate
LGBT patients and colleagues.       Picture: Alamy

Society and health care in the UK have, thankfully, come a long way since the days when being gay was illegal and people were offered barbaric aversion therapies and 'chemical castration' as a ‘cure’. All NHS trusts now have policies to protect LGBT patients and staff. So, at least on paper, everyone is treated equally.

Yet before we stand back and congratulate ourselves, let’s look at some harsh statistics. In 2015, research by Stonewall revealed one in four healthcare staff who work directly with patients have heard colleagues make negative remarks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and one in five have heard negative comments about transgender people. The same research found that one in six staff who work directly with patients say they would not feel confident challenging colleagues or patients who make negative remarks about lesbian, gay or bisexual people or use discriminatory language.

So how can individual nurses, particularly those in the heterosexual majority, help to make healthcare settings more inclusive?

Slippery slope

Most people enjoy a bit of ward banter, but it’s worth thinking about the language you use, and the preconceived ideas you have when asking personal questions. Without realising it, you may be making it harder for colleagues and patients to feel safe revealing details about their sexuality.

I am an openly gay woman who has been happily married for eight years. Yet I still fear the question ‘are you married?’, as without doubt the next question is either ‘what is your husband’s name?’ or ‘what does your husband do?’. It is tiring and time-consuming having to correct people, and sometimes I don’t want the fact that I’m married to a woman to be the focus of the conversation. So, even though I feel that I’m letting myself and the LGBT community down, I tend to call my beautiful wife ‘my partner’.

Workplace discrimination can start off subtly and gain momentum. Sometimes a simple shift in language can prevent other nurses and those in your care feeling alienated.

Be brave

If you overhear colleagues or patients making derogatory comments about yours or someone else’s sexuality, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Do you turn a blind eye, or do you feel confident enough to challenge them? Most people, if answering honestly, would say ‘it depends’. Factors influencing your decision may include what was said, who said it, what your mood was that day and how strongly you felt about the remark in question.

Confrontation takes courage, especially if it is with someone you work with or someone who is ill and vulnerable. Yet you have a duty to act with honesty and integrity, and your employer should have systems in place to support you.

The bottom line is that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation is unacceptable and illegal. Equality does not happen by accident: be brave and hopefully others will follow your example.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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