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LGBT+ in pharmacy: pride despite prejudice

"'Tolerance' and six-striped rainbow logos do not go far enough; we need to challenge attitudes"

As we celebrate LGBT+ Pride month, Scott Rutherford reflects on the barriers that remain in the healthcare system, recounting experiences of fellow LGBT+ professionals

Community pharmacies are undoubtedly some of the most accessible healthcare hubs in the country – but for whom?

According to ‘LGBT in Britain: Health Report’ by Stonewall, one in seven LGBT+ people avoid seeking healthcare due to their fear of being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This fear is not unfounded: nearly a quarter of LGBT+ people said they had witnessed discriminatory or negative remarks against LGBT+ people by healthcare staff. The current scarcity of teaching about the care of LGBT+ people within the education and training of healthcare professionals (unless in the stigmatising context of HIV and sexual health) no doubt contributes to the misunderstanding and misconceptions about LGBT+ people.

Prejudice and discrimination, under the guise of stereotyping, microaggressions, bullying, and hate crimes, teaches LGBT+ youth to repress and quieten their identities, contributing to ‘minority stress’, the cornerstone of health inequalities. This translates into high levels of mental ill health, excess alcohol consumption, and drug misuse.

Anti-LGBT+ discrimination in pharmacy is not exclusive to patient care, however; it is found within educational institutions and workplaces too. In fact, research shows that LGBT+ people are perceived to be less professional, and gay men in particular are viewed as less effective leaders.

To illustrate the sort of discrimination that takes place, members of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s (PDA's) LGBT+ pharmacists’ network kindly shared some of their experiences with me.

Hiding one's true self: One member recounted the derogatory comments and homophobic bullying that he experienced during his early career as a hospital pharmacist. These all-too-common experiences of discrimination pushed him to hide his true self and delayed him from being open with his family and friends about his sexuality.

Several members identified the similar obligation to conceal their identity in pharmacy settings. Luckily, this particular member managed to escape this environment and start work at a new trust where he has not experienced the same level of discrimination and is now able to chat freely about his partner in the same way his straight colleagues do.

Putting your sexuality aside: Another member of the network is still anxious about being openly LGBT+ at work and stated that it “feels like something I should keep to myself”. Sharing a similar opinion, a further member stated that he puts his sexuality aside while at work, although all of his experiences of coming out at work have been positive ones.

Disguising it as “banter”: A student member recalled an incident of homophobic aggression while on campus and cited the microaggressions that they faced in “seemingly supportive environments”. Frequently, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are dressed up as “banter” and dismissed as such, however, the Trades Union Congress stresses that tribunals will “come down hard” on perpetrators.

Harassed and threatened: Shockingly, an openly gay member of the network shared his experience of being harassed and threatened by a colleague who refused to listen to a presentation given by a gay man. A group of students later called for his resignation on the grounds of religious objections to supporting the needs of LGBT+ patients and being taught by a gay man.

These incidents captured his interest in the intersections of faith and sexuality, and how they can create barriers in pharmacy. Yet despite his experiences, this pharmacist highlighted that supporting young patients who are questioning or exploring their sexuality or gender identity has been one of the most positive experiences in nearly 20 years of practice.

Despite the challenges that LGBT+ people face, Pride is still a celebration of who we are and what we have achieved, from the decriminalisation of homosexuality to marriage equality and the Gender Recognition Act.

The PDA’s LGBT+ pharmacists’ network is a testament to this celebration; a diverse group of successful and supportive LGBT+ people and allies that I am proud to represent.

The fight for LGBT+ equality in the UK is not over, particularly within the healthcare system. ‘Tolerance’ and six-striped rainbow logos do not go far enough; we need to challenge attitudes and systems, and integrate diversity and inclusion into the education and professional development of pharmacists, and other healthcare providers – and do this intersectionally.

What is Pride?

Pride pays tribute to the Stonewall uprising of June 1969, which was sparked as a result of a violent police raid of a bar full of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming people.

The subsequent riots developed into a movement towards the global liberation of people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexualities and gender identities, known by the acronym of LGBT+.

Inequality, however, rages on in the face of the progress made and shamelessly rears its head within the healthcare system.

From the requirement to be diagnosed with ‘gender dysphoria’ (the term used to describe discomfort with the gender you were assigned at birth) to change your legal sex to the fact many trans people choose to transition using gender-confirming hormones and surgeries, trans people are immersed in the healthcare system. However, prejudice towards transgender and gender non-conforming people is rife in the UK, and it is given power by a media onslaught that paints the rights of trans people as little more than a political plaything.

This discriminatory environment has now manifested as a complete pause on NHS lower surgery for trans-masculine people, extortionate waiting times, and court rulings to obstruct the use of puberty blockers (GnRH agonists) in children under 16. Furthermore, a third of transgender people have experienced unfair treatment in a medical setting which highlights the need for pharmacy teams to do better for their trans patients.

 

Scott Rutherford is a third year MPharm student and president of the PDA’s LGBT+ network

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