February is nearly over, and before we start enjoying sunnier, warmer days, hopefully with friends and family, I thought it would be great to reflect on the past month’s initiatives such as LGBT+ history month, and what this means for those of us who work in healthcare and at UCLPartners in particular.
What is LGBT+ History Month?
The LGBT+ History Month is an annual month-long celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. It provides education and awareness of the gay rights movement and promotes an inclusive modern society. In the UK, LGBT+ History Month was initiated by Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick as part of a Schools Out UK project in 2005, in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 in 2003 – a Local Government Act which stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
Promoting awareness and fighting inequality in healthcare
Over the last two decades, LGBT+ rights in the UK have come a long way, and more and more organisations commit to increase awareness, promote education and fight inequalities. As part of its commitment to intersect healthcare innovation and equality and diversity, the AHSN Network – which brings together the 15 academic health science networks (AHSNs) across England, including UCLPartners – is working with LGBT Foundation to identify innovations and innovative approaches that in some way help address these challenges. Our aim is to showcase and support the adoption of innovations and best practice nationally across health and care services. This coincides with the recommendations published this month by the NHS Confederation Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders Network, to help healthcare leaders, service designers and commissioners ensure their services and workplaces meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ population. A great example of such work from within UCLPartners is the NIHR ARC North Thames research into mental health self-management among LGBTQ+ young people. Specifically, Rosa Town from UCL is looking into the strategies LGBTQ+ young people use to self-manage their mental health, their experiences, and barriers and facilitators.
The power of storytelling
Education and raising awareness can take many forms. At UCLPartners, as part of our ongoing commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, we opted to raise awareness amongst staff via our internal social network, Workplace, with examples of moving, award winning forms of cinematography and literature. For example, the latest series of “It’s A Sin” follows a group of friends with their lives tested as they grow up in the shadow of AIDS. Note when a gay schoolteacher, Ash, is ordered to remove books from the school library which reference homosexuality, following the introduction of Section 28! The movie “Pride” was also suggested, where a group of lesbian and gay activists raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984, at the outset of what would become the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) campaign. Fun fact – the alliance formed between LGBT+ community and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) led to a resolution to criminalise discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people at the Labour Party Annual Conference in 1985. This legislation was supported by block voting from the NUM! Other cultural products we shared included “Beautiful Thing”, a movie heralded as a crown jewel of gay storytelling due to its continuous relevance of diversity and intersectionality of its characters, and the book “In One Person”, by John Irving, a story about desire, sexuality, and identity. For those who have young children, we shared “And Tango Makes Three” written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, which offers a great way to introduce the idea of diverse families. This children’s book tells the story of two male penguins, Roy, and Silo, who create a family together. Unfortunately, since its publication in 2005, it has been reported as the most challenged book, and on many occasions across the world, it has been censored, removed from libraries, and destroyed.
It has been 17 years since the first LGBT+ History Month was launched in the UK and an increasing number of people are involved in raising awareness. The path however, like with all inclusion, diversity and equality initiatives, is long. It is down to all of us – as individuals and as organisations – to educate ourselves and move out of our comfort zones.