The march goes on

Why is homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people still acceptable in the NHS, asks Drew Payne

Why is homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people still acceptable in the NHS, asks Drew Payne

When I started my nurse training 25 years ago, I ran into a wall of homophobia. I was told by vocal colleagues that I only wanted to be a nurse to see naked men and that all gay men deserved to get AIDS.

I was also told that I was a danger to children and that God could heal me and make me ‘normal’. I endured this because it was 1990, and homophobia was what I expected as a gay man.

It is now 2015 and society has changed a lot since my student days. We are much more open and there are many legal protections against homophobia. My partner and I got married last year and I thought we had come so far. Then I was brought down to earth with a crash.


In July, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) campaigning organisation Stonewall published Unhealthy Attitudes, a report into the treatment of LGBT health and social care staff. Based on a survey of 3,000 LGBT staff in the UK, it made for shocking reading – I felt that the clock had been turned back 25 years, as if nothing had really changed.

The London Pride march in July coincided with the publication of Stonewall’s
Unhealthy Attitudes, highlighting homophobic behaviour
Picture credit: Getty

The report revealed that one in four had heard a colleague make negative or homophobic statements about LGBT people, and one in five had heard negative statements about trans people. One quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff surveyed had been the victims of homophobic bullying or poor treatment at work, and 10% had heard colleagues claim that LGBT people can be ‘cured’.

Statistical realities

The report also conveys the realities behind the statistics, with many personal stories, such as the nurse who was told by another nurse that he should be hung for being gay, the healthcare assistant who said people are not born LGBT but ‘choose’ this ‘lifestyle’, and the comments made to trans people, who were called ‘it’ or ‘she-male’.

As shocking as this is, the report created little outrage, with limited comment from our nursing leaders and the wider community. Had the report highlighted racism or sexism I am sure there would have been an outcry, but this caused barely a ripple.

Homophobia remains the prejudice that we most easily accept. It is seen as ‘banter’ or personal views and any challenge as ‘political correctness gone too far’. But it is none of these; it is blatant prejudice that can damage, even destroy, people’s lives. So why, as nurses, do we tolerate it?

Legal ties

The NHS has a legal responsibility to eliminate discrimination and Stonewall has a clear recommendation: staff training in LGBT issues. Unhealthy Attitudes states that 72% of those surveyed said they had not received any training on the health needs of LGBT people, and one quarter had not received any equality and diversity training.

We speak about person-centred care a lot in nursing, but it seems that if the person is LGBT their needs are largely neglected. How can we say we focus on person-centred care when the needs and safety of LGBT staff are so blatantly ignored in the NHS? And how can we offer patients open and non-judgemental care when we cannot even offer this to our colleagues?

Unhealthy attitudes towards the LGBT population must stop, and those working in the NHS have to address this issue urgently. We cannot wait another 25 years to do something about it.

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