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As a straight cisgender woman, I have never had to walk into a situation and wonder if I might be on the receiving end of prejudice for my sexuality. I had not really thought about what it might feel like to meet someone new and wonder if they might reject me for who I was, until recently. I was having a pleasant conversation with a patient on our inpatient unit who was a lesbian. Like many of our patients, she had been understandably apprehensive about her first visit, but as well as all the usual concerns, she also felt unsure of how her sexual orientation would be received. I was glad that she had the courage to voice this, as it gave me the opportunity to put her mind at rest. However, I was also saddened that she should have to wonder; after all, acceptance is a basic human need.
A transgender acquaintance once told me she did not expect or ask everyone to understand her gender, but she did ask people to accept it. Surely, we can all grant such a simple human request. Yet sadly, statistics back up the fears of LGBTQ+ patients. Experiences ranging from unnecessarily intrusive questions and insensitivity to blatant prejudice have prevented members of the LGBTQ+ community from accessing the medical help they need.
These findings echo the underlying questions my patient asked me that day, could she trust me to accept and embrace her as she was? She, like many from minority groups, had learned that she could not assume such basic human kindness from everyone.
I am proud to work for an organisation that embraces diversity and seeks to be considerate of the needs of patients of all genders and sexual orientations. However, I realised that day it is not enough to expect people from a community who has experienced a long history of discrimination to assume they are in safe in our care. Real inclusion must be clearly communicated, so no one needs to wonder.
That is why I, and my colleagues, wear our St Helena rainbow badges with pride, to say ‘I accept you as you are, and you are welcome here’.
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