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Celebrating LGBT+ History Month 2024

lgbt history month

To mark LGBT+ History Month, Chamber hosted a panel session chaired by trans activist, councillor and parliamentary candidate, Helen Belcher.

Panellists included: Layla McCay, Director of Policy NHS Confederation, Kate Davison, Lecturer in the History of Sexuality at the University of Edinburgh and Baroness Liz Barker, Deputy Chair of the APPG for Global LGBT+ Rights.

To coincide with this year’s theme of medicine, this session discussed a range of medical advancements achieved by the LGBT+ community, as well as the barriers to healthcare they continue to face.

The importance of LGBT+ History Month

LGBT+ History Month aims to raise awareness of LGBT+ people’s history and culture, and to challenge prejudice and discrimination. Many countries have their own variations of LGBT+ History Month, but in the UK, it is celebrated every February to coincide with a major celebration of the 2003 abolition of Section 28.

Each year LGBT+ History Month has a different theme. This year, the theme of medicine and the use of the hashtag #UnderTheScope, seeks to highlight the LGBT+ peoples’ contribution to the field of Medicine and Healthcare both historically and today. We are therefore encouraged to look ‘Under the Scope’ and listen to LGBT+ peoples’ lived experiences from LGBT+ people.

Highlighting Historic Achievements and Events

The panel session kicked off with a discussion on prominent historic achievements and events concerning the LGBT+ community. Helen turned to Layla first who highlighted some earlier trailblazers including Dr. James Barry, an 18/19th century surgeon who carried out ground-breaking work. It was later found out that Dr. Barry had been born a woman which is particularly interesting as at the time, women were not necessarily allowed to practice in the medical field.

Layla also noted the founder of the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, Sophia Jex-Blake who was well-known for being queer. She stated, “the history of LGBTQ+ people in medicine is not a recent one; this is a proud history and it’s nice to be able to celebrate it”.

Kate then pointed to the work of the early gay liberation movement in the 1970s, noting the overthrow of the ‘medical model’ – the idea that identities that deviate from heterosexuality are an illness to be treated and cured. Crucially, Kate asserted that in recent years, a revival of the medical model has been seen in relation to trans people.

Regarding HIV/AIDS, Baroness Barker explained that it is not possible to mark LGBT+ History Month without mention of HIV. She described the epidemic as a holocaust on the community, but pointed out that this was the first time that gay people in numbers were visible within healthcare systems and highlighted the way healthcare had to adapt and change. “We were forced, for reasons that none of us would wish, into a position where we challenged the way in which health services are delivered and began to put patients to the fore in co-designing their healthcare in a way that had not happened before” Baroness Barker stated.

The Current Scene

Discussing the current healthcare scene, Baroness Barker noted the concern that LGBT+ people have that the NHS “churns out policy documents and action plans” that ignore their needs. Highlighting the failure to discuss lesbians within women’s health, she described this as a “fundamental blindness to our existence” and says she knows women who will not attend vital appointments such as cervical screening due to negative experiences.

“I’m a patron of opening doors. We’ve done tremendous work in opening doors to raise the visibility of older people, older LGBT people. But the really basic, basic stuff, which just does not happen in the NHS, is, to me, constantly staggering the number of lesbians who go along with their wives. Perhaps I had to have a t-shirt made that says, I’m not her sister” Baroness Barker stated.

Layla added to this, asserting that fewer LGBT+ people attend key screenings. “It’s a really big concern, and I think that people are conscious of it, but it tends not to be right there, up there at the top of the priority list on many occasions when people are thinking about how to design services, because often they will design for the majority and hope everybody else can fit in” she said.

Moreover, Baroness Barker highlights the second-class status gay couples are placed in with regards to reproductive health. they’ve got a rainbow badge in the NHS, but it’s high time that they started to live up to it by really, truly putting themselves in our shoes and understanding what it is like to walk into a healthcare setting and be met with, at best, incomprehension, because that’s all too often, what’s happening to us” she explained.

Kate then discussed the role of underfunding, stating that opportunities for implementing policies targeted at protecting minority communities is often curtailed due to costs which is something which must be combatted.

 Looking Forward: Overcoming Barriers

Focusing on the mission of the NHS to deliver high quality care for all, Layla contends that there are many barriers to this. Firstly, she discusses knowledge and awareness; most services are designed with heteronormative assumptions that are not helpful for LGBT+ people. She notes how some research done recently created a health and care LGBT+ inclusion framework which included six pillars such as fostering more LGBT+ leadership, overcoming heterosexual and cis-gendered assumptions, being better at collecting and reporting data and listening to LGBT+ patients.

Kate also stated that LGBT+ training should be provided before practitioners join the NHS. Coming from a University background, she has spoken to people who studied health-related subjects abroad who have no prior knowledge of LGBT+ care.

Lastly, Baroness Barker argued that a major barrier is the current presentation of LGBT+ people as a threat to the majority. She also notes that in combination with underfunding, the LGBT+ community are more likely to be excluded from equal healthcare access so notes that it is vital that sexual and gender minorities are not daunted by the kickbacks they face as their needs are valid. “You cannot have a national health service, you cannot have a healthy nation if you exclude minorities from the provision of health care. Simple as” she concludes.

Watch the full video here:

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