Rebecca Simcox, Health and Social Care and Child Development Subject Advisor
February is LGBT+ History Month. This is a dedicated month-long celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and non-binary individuals which is held annually to celebrate and promote the history and rights of LGBT+ people.
In this blog, I celebrate four people who I feel are health heroes and the impact I think they’ve had in the healthcare industry and in the LGBT+ community.
A health hero is someone who commits to bringing about change to improve the lives of others, specifically in the healthcare sector. An LGBT+ health hero is a person who promotes change for the benefit of everyone as well as providing a voice and representation for the LGBT+ community.
The importance of LGBT+ health heroes can’t be underestimated, and the celebration of the LGBT+ community being in February is poignant. Did you know that LGBT+ History Month is in February because it is the month that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was abolished in 2003? This meant that LGBT+ rights and history could legally be learnt and promoted in schools and the wider community.
LGBT+ health heroes help to encourage people that if they join the healthcare sector their rights will be upheld, and their voices will be heard. They also have a huge part to play in representation for all and in striving for inclusivity.
A Health Report published in 2018 by the LGBT+ charity Stonewall found that one in eight LGBT+ people had experienced unequal treatment from a healthcare professional because of their sexuality or gender. The report went on to discuss the varied discrimination that individuals faced, ranging from healthcare professionals avoiding eye contact with the patient, stereotyping them and assuming their identity, and even the outright refusal of treatment.
This negative aspect of the healthcare industry is the reason why LGBT+ health heroes are so important and how they are needed to encourage inclusivity for both patients and staff.
Below are some health heroes that I would like to recognise for their work in raising awareness in the sector.
Steve Hams MBE is chief nursing officer at North Bristol NHS Trust and has championed the inclusion of LQBT+ colleagues and patients for many years. Steve, alongside the LGBT+ Diversity Network, launched the highly successful rainbow lanyards so healthcare workers could identify themselves as LGBT+ allies.
These lanyards are now used nationally throughout NHS trusts to promote diversity as well as showing support to all members of the LQBT+ community. They indicate a safe space for colleagues and enable the NHS to demonstrate it is an inclusive organisation.
Steve was awarded an MBE in 2022 for services to nursing, as well as leading the COVID-19 vaccination programme and his huge contribution to the LGBT+ community in the NHS and wider.
Karen Dawber, former chief nurse at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was involved in the introduction of rainbow badges across the NHS. The aim of the badges is to increase awareness of the issues surrounding LGBT+ people when accessing healthcare, making significant differences to healthcare experiences.
The NHS rainbow badge sends a public and visual message to LGBT+ individuals that they are supported, that they are listened to, they are represented, and they have a voice. It can allow them to break down barriers and have conversations that they may have otherwise felt unsure or uncomfortable having. The intention of the badges was also to prompt and start conversations amongst staff about how the NHS can improve the experiences of LGBT+ people when they use healthcare services.
Rainbow badges are used throughout the NHS trust, showing staff that the NHS is an inclusive place to work and showing patients that it’s a safe environment for them. This representation is essential to promote healthcare and encourage members of the LGBT+ community to use the services.
Ian Howley is the CEO of LGBT Hero, an organisation that works to offer free health support and guidance to individuals in the LGBT+ community on a range of topics, such as living with HIV, sexuality and gender identity and LGBT+ rights. Working alongside charities, organisations and volunteers, Ian promotes projects and programmes to benefit the community. Some of the projects he’s involved in include online peer support, FS magazine and GMFA, a programme set up to tackle deaths from HIV and AIDS.
According to the LGBT Hero website Ian has been the CEO of LGBT Hero since 2016. His background is in mental health, suicide prevention and youth issues. He has degrees in both Health Promotion and Graphic Design allowing him to bring practical and creative thinking in delivering LGBT Hero’s services. Ian feels strongly that no LGBTQ+ person should have to face health and social inequalities for simply being who they are.
Dr Michelle Drage MB BS FRCGP Dip Med Ac is the chief executive of Londonwide Local Medical Committees. Dr Drage is a high-profile member of the healthcare sector, and her role involves representing GPs and practice staff across London. She was previously a senior member of the British Medical Association and a political negotiator.
In 2005 Dr Drage decided she would start the process of transitioning from male to female after years of body dysphoria and gender conflict. She had always dreamt of this transition but finally felt she had the courage, following on from her involvement of treating London 7/7 bombing victims at the scene.
Once Dr Drage had completed her transition, she returned to work and was a champion of women and members of the LGBT+ community in healthcare. In 2014, she was nominated as a Health Service Journal (HSJ) LGBT role model. Her nominator said: “Transitioning is hard enough without doing it in the public eye. She is an inspiration not only to other people dealing with gender dysphoria, but to anyone who has suffered discrimination in the health service.”
LGBT+ role models play a crucial role in promoting equality and acceptance for people in the LGBT+ community. Their work is vital in promoting rights for LGBT+ people, ensuring their voices are heard and ultimately, working towards an inclusive and equitable healthcare environment for all.
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Rebecca is a member of the Health and Social Care and Child Development subject advisor team. Before joining OCR, she taught in an all-girls secondary school in Birmingham for 19 years. She taught a variety of subjects, including Health and Social Care, PSHE, PE, Sport and Dance and has a particular interest in health and wellbeing.