Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Being a gay pharmacist – a South Asian perspective

By Vimal Boulton-Patel (him/he), Clinical Pharmacist

My name is Vimal, I qualified in 2007. I had a strict upbringing where the emphasis was to study hard and aim high, especially in Science and Maths, which were subjects I enjoyed anyway.

Growing up

Being the eldest child son made it much more difficult to express my feelings and thoughts, let alone to come out as a gay man. Growing up in a South Asian household, my life was planned out right before my eyes, there was an expectation to have an assisted marriage to the opposite sex within the community the moment that you graduate. Having a relationship with someone of a different caste or race was frowned upon and discussed by the elders in the community in a negative way, so adding same sex attraction into that pot made it nearly impossible for me to come out to my family.

Separating work and family

I used my profession as a distraction to hide who I was. The more I focussed on my role as a pharmacist, then the less I thought about the reality of my life. I was openly out to most of my friends and to all my work colleagues, but never to my family and kept it that way for a long time. In all honesty, I have not experienced any negativity from any of my colleagues or managers, in fact they have been supportive, and I considered my ex-work colleagues the family support that I never had. It was as if I could be open and free and be myself with them. This covered up the dread of visiting my family and putting on a front with them.

I never used my sexuality as a reason to gain special treatment as I believe that it is a part of me and does not define my professionalism or integrity. Providing the best care I can is what matters to me, I let patients make their own assumptions, but I have never faced any discrimination with regards to my sexual orientation from them. As long as they have the right advice and treatment, I find they’re not particularly interested in dissecting my personal life!

Education matters

LGBT history month is essential to highlight the community and our experiences. For years there was no LGBT+ group for pharmacists and I had to tag along with nurses and doctors. Having a separate group, specifically for pharmacists and pharmacy staff, is vital as we share more common agendas. Education about LGBT+ issues continues to be vital, especially in the South Asian community, as it is still regarded a taboo subject. Family pressures mean that gay South Asian men often end up leading a double life, or bow to an assisted marriage. I’m proud to be one of those who has broken the mould. There are many LGBT+ South Asians who unfortunately do not have the same privileges as me and are trapped in loveless marriages in order to preserve honour.

Be brave

However, times are changing, and with more recognition, it is becoming easier for those in ethnic minority groups to be brave and come out. My vision is for more dialogue with the ethnic minority community and more education, as there is so much misinformation out there that prevents them from understanding the reality of being LGBT+.

Although my journey has been difficult from the start, I have been brave and persisted with my family who have slowly come to terms with it. If they had more awareness and support from the community from the start, then this journey would have been easier. More work needs to be done and LGBT+ history month is part of the solution.

You'll be able to read more about Vimal's views in an upcoming edition of Asian Voice.

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.