By Andrew Carruthers, MPharmS, Senior Pharmacist – Medicines Governance & RPS Scottish Pharmacy Board member
Like many others I’ve recently binged the heart-warming and heart-breaking series It’s a Sin on Channel 4 and All4. It’s a Sin is set in 1981 – the same year homosexuality was decriminalised in Scotland and only fourteen years after decriminalisation and England and Wales – and is a horrifying reminder of some of the prejudice that the LGBTQI+ community has faced in the recent past. The discussion the show has created is evidence of how far we have come towards acceptance and equality. But we still have a way to go.
LGBTQI+ History Month first took place in February 2005 to raise awareness of, and combat prejudice against, LGBTQI+ people and to celebrate their history. As pharmacists, it’s important we acknowledge and understand the need for LGBTQI+ history month.
A 2018 report from Stonewall found 23% of patients had witnessed negative remarks about LGBT people from healthcare staff while accessing services. One in seven LGBT people reported avoiding treatment altogether for the fear of the discrimination they may face, and a quarter of LGBT people face a lack of understanding of their specific health needs, which increases to 62% for trans patients.
In order to begin to address these issues in healthcare, we need to increase visibility and representation. I’ve always been gay. People were calling me gay (and other things) before I even knew what gay was. Growing up I didn’t know what being gay would mean for me in the future. I saw very little representation in reality or in the media – and if I did it was likely whispered conversation or a tragedy on TV. Seeing someone like me - anywhere -would have made me realise that it might just work out. Being seen and heard is vital, not just for ourselves, but for others around us so we can make meaningful connections.
I finally understood the importance of visibility when I visited a new GP who proudly displayed a rainbow flag in her consultation room. It made me feel instantly at ease and that I could be my authentic self and discuss my health openly. As a result, I now make a point of wearing a rainbow badge every day to work. I work in Care of the Elderly and my badge has been enough to give many elderly patients the courage to spark a conversation that they might not have otherwise had. I know from my own experience that this small gesture has a hugely positive impact on these patients.
It is always worth mentioning you don’t need to be LGBTQI+ to show your support by wearing or displaying a rainbow – or any other means of support (in fact I would encourage you especially if you aren’t LGBTQI+!). I have no idea how my GP identifies – it’s not important – what is important is that I know I am welcome there.
Like all areas of pharmacy, you don’t need to know the answer to every single question you might get - it is enough to signpost or know where to look:
Pride in Practice is a fantastic organisation which provides a range of support services for LGBTQI+ people and they work with healthcare professionals to make public services more accessible and inclusive for LGBTQI+ communities.
LGBT Health & Wellbeing (Scotland) provide support services, social events and develop resources so LGBT people can address the health issues that impact their lives and connect with their local communities.
MindOut is a mental health service run by and for lesbians, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people.
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