Coming out: Reflections on UKRCO 2017

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So, last week I did a talk at UKRCO 2017 on “Coming Out in Healthcare”. The focus was on patients and healthcare professionals who are LGBTQ, and how we can normalise the coming out process. I had an amazing time at the conference, and met a lot of wonderful people I have so far only known on Twitter. While I was there my friend Rachel Harris gave me some wise doctoral advice – “don’t forget to write this up for your reflective portfolio”.  Not having one of those, I decided to blog it. I’ve been reading and writing (and presenting) on LGBTQ issues in healthcare for what seems forever (although realistically it can only be a year or so) – and overall had a good response. Often LGBTQ people will come up afterwards and tell me about their experiences in healthcare (some funny, some just WTAF). Many straight people will comment that it has “made them think” or the talk “opened their eyes” – which is also gratifying.  The UKRCO post-talk activity was definitely the most positive/funnest/most affirming so far.

The best part was afterwards (on Twitter as well as IRL) talking with a diverse group of people, gay, straight, differently gendered – medical imaging people, radiation therapists, managers and leaders . For example, I met a brilliant undergrad student who was volunteering at the conference and doing research on examining radiographers’ knowledge of care for trans patients. Her impetus was listening (as a first year) to how staff around her had talked about a trans woman who was being treated for prostate cancer. She wanted to change that conversation.  I think what struck me about all the interactions with LGBTQ colleagues were the things we have in common. Coming out stories were shared, some were easy – some painful to talk about even now. There was a lot of discussion about how we manage our identity at work, who knows, who doesn’t – who is cool with it and the inevitable horror stories of the times it didn’t go well (for us as well as for patients).  Most of us remembered patients who were LGBTQ that we clicked with – some of us wore rainbow lanyards, lapel pins or just gave off a strong gay vibe!  We talked about gender – and being gendered – and the difficulty of finding a sweet tailored suit (and not a cocktail dress) to rock up in for the inevitable conference gala dinner.  It was so great to be in the gay-zone and get that sense of support and affirmation – most importantly that my research is on the right track, the stuff I experienced at work hasn’t gone away, and that people are really receptive and keen to learn how to improve care for patients.

In my talk I used a clip from the fabulous Macmillan* “LGBTQ experiences of cancer care” video series where Lesley (a lesbian living with ovarian cancer) talks about her discomfort with knowing some of her nurses were lesbian but closeted. She says “it’s about equality really….” – she is out, why are they hiding that same thing from her? This prompted an interesting side discussion about “should LGBTQ staff HAVE to come out” – where I think (fairly obviously) the answer is “of course not”.  Issues ranged from legislative concerns (where we can’t discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation etc.) to colleagues saying “well, should I wear a badge that says I am a Christian, Muslim?” One person said that “it’s about being professional” (not talking about their sexual orientation at work) – which ties into a lot of the research that shows it’s often homo, not hetero-sexuality seen as “unprofessional”.

Next week is my comprehensive exam that will assess whether I am ready for candidacy and the research part of my EdD. This week has been a gift in terms of giving me insight into what it is like “out there” and validating my topic as one that is important, relevant and likely to make a change in practice.   Now onward!

*Macmillan have some really good resources, including the recent “Supporting LGBT people affected by cancer” article and the “No one overlooked- experiences of LGBT people affected by cancer” report

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Serious indecency: Talking about LGB issues in a country where being gay is criminalised

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I took my very first research poster to my profession’s international association conference in 2001 (ISRRT). It happened to be in beautiful Barbados and the combination of rum punch, meeting other therapists interested in research and finding out just how much great work is happening in other countries was intoxicating! My wife and I made the poster together – I can’t remember how we decided who presented it but I do remember being proud to see our two names together on the top. It’s still listed on both of our CVs, along with the journal articles we have co-authored since.

We’ve always worked in the same field, our eyes first met across an electron cut out (a romantic location only radiation therapists would appreciate!). Our relationship at work has always been a bit of a balancing act – a kind of double-managing of the usual professional coming-out dilemma. In the 90s we weren’t eligible for joint medical coverage through our health insurance as a same-sex couple. When I took some time off after my father died (and needed dental work), we filed a human rights complaint that led to a swift exit from the workplace closet. As attitudes and legislation changed, we worried less about being fully who we are there, but there’s considerable evidence that even in progressive Canada many people still actively manage their sexual identity at work.

My research interest is LGB issues, specifically how/if radiation therapists deal with this. Is it an issue? How does it affect relationships with patients? What about LGB patients? I’ve done a few talks already in this area, just preliminary and broad findings from the literature along with some recent research about LGB patients and their experiences with healthcare. There is growing interest in doing a better job – we know there are fairly easy things we can improve, and we need better education across the board. This is true for many Western countries, the UK are well ahead of most of Canada and we all know about some of the issues the US LGB population are facing with Trump attempting to roll back many hard-won rights such as freedom from discrimination legislation.

But what about other countries? Mostly not so great. I logged onto Twitter this morning to see posts about the “Chechnya 100” – gay men imprisoned and possibly killed because of who they love. While gay rights progress in many parts of the world, there are still at least 74 countries that punish same-sex relationships with life imprisonment or even death. Many of these countries are in the Caribbean and one is Trinidad, where the next international association conference is being held. In that country “consensual intercourse between men is punishable by up to 25 years in prison, while “serious indecency” between women is punishable by 15 years in prison. In addition, an unenforced law calls for a prohibition on homosexuals entering Trinidad” (1).  Also not great.

While I was happy to see that the law that would prevent me from entering the country is unenforced (and to be honest I wasn’t planning on having any kind of sex – let alone the seriously indecent sort) this has given me significant pause. What would you do? Go anyway? Go and change your topic from “homosexuality” to something else? Not go as a protest? (To whom?) I talked to the ISRRT’s Public Relations Regional Coordinator for the Americas last week at our national conference and asked her about this. She has gay friends, she doesn’t think it is a big deal – and was unaware of the law. I imagine it wasn’t even on the radar when they picked the venue. But I think it is a big deal and I am aware of it. I just don’t know what to do!

Reference:

  1. Stewart, C. “Legal challenge confronts Trinidad’s anti-gay laws”. 76 Crimes

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