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There is no place in health care for unhealthy attitudes towards LGBT staff

As a report from LGBT campaigning charity Stonewall reveals that LGBT health and social care staff still experience homophobic bullying and discrimination from colleagues and patients, community nurse Drew Payne calls on nurse leaders to do more to end this shocking practice.

During my first year of nurse training 25 years ago, I ran into a wall of homophobia. I was told by my 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 so much since my nursing student days. We are much more open, and have many legal protections against homophobia. Last year, my partner and I got married, and I thought we had come so far. Then I was brought down to earth with a crash.

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

The report revealed that one in four people had heard a colleague make negative or homophobic statements about LGBT people, and one in five had heard negative statements about trans people. A quarter of those surveyed had been the victims of homophobic bullying from patients and service users, and 10% had heard colleagues make claims that LGBT people can be ‘cured’.

The report also conveys the realities behind the statistics, with many personal quotes and stories. There is the nurse who was told – by another nurse – that he should be hung for being gay, and the manager who told another nurse that homophobic comments were ‘only banter’.

Then there is the nurse who was ostracised by his whole team at work and socially, when it came out that he is gay; the many comments made to trans people who were called ‘it’ or ‘she-male’; the healthcare assistant who said people are not born LGBT but ‘choose’ this ‘lifestyle’; and the doctor who refers to anyone he doesn't consider ‘normal’ as ‘deviants’, whose needs should not be ‘forced’ on the majority.

As shocking as this is, the report created little outrage, with little comment from our nursing leaders or the wider community. I am sure there would have been a massive outcry if it was highlighting racism or sexism, but this barely caused a ripple.

Homophobia still seems to be the prejudice that we most easily accept. It is just ‘banter’ or someone's personal belief or views, and any challenge is seen as ‘political correctness gone too far’.  But it is none of these. It is blatant prejudice which can damage and even destroy, people's lives.  So why, as nurses, are we tolerating it?

Stonewall has produced several previous reports highlighting the poor treatment experienced by LGBT people in the NHS, and how reluctant they are to be out to healthcare workers.  This latest report re-enforces these earlier findings.

According to Unhealthy Attitudes, 72% of those surveyed said they had not received any training on the health needs of LGBT people, and a quarter had not received any equality and diversity training. Over the last three years, my own equality and diversity training has consisted of one 15-minute online presentation covering the needs of disabled people, black and minority ethnic and LGBT people.

The NHS has a legal responsibility to eliminate discrimination, and Stonewall has a clear recommendation: staff training in LGBT issues. We speak a lot in nursing about person-centred care, but it seems that if the person is LGBT, a large part of their personality and needs are ignored, at best. LGBT people have their own healthcare needs – it is about more than just using the gender-neutral term partner – but the evidence shows they are still being 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 type of support to our own colleagues?  This has to change.  We need to stamp out unhealthy attitudes towards the LGBT population, and soon.

To read the report 'Unhealthy Attitudes' click here.

About the author

Drew PayneDrew Payne is a community staff nurse in North London

@drew_london

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