“If it’s not fair it’s not right and something needs to be done” - LGBT Health and Wellbeing

Elspeth Gracey, CHEX Development Manager, offers her reflections from the LGBT Health and Wellbeing’s AGM.

This heading was a favourite saying of my father’s and as a child I absorbed this approach to life. Since virtually all the adults around me during my formative years were active trade unionists, I also absorbed the concept that people should not be left alone to fight injustice.

LGBT Health and WellbeingSo, when I attended LGBT Health and Wellbeing’s AGM recently and heard that 1 in 5 people from the LGBTQI+ Community attending health services face discrimination all my ingrained instincts of the unfairness of that culminated in a sense that “something needs to be done”. And indeed, ‘doing something about it’ is exactly what LGBT Health and Wellbeing do daily. Their AGM showcased, very powerfully, what is being done by them to right the wrongs still faced by LGBTQI+ people in our society today.

The testimony from people using their services highlighted individual cases but what was striking was the repeated themes which we heard from a wide range of people in differing circumstances. Statements like:-

  • “I felt listened to for the first time”
  • “You provided me with a safe space”
  • “I feel that I am now truly my real self”
  • “LGBT Health and Wellbeing have given me a family”
  • “I feel more confident and less afraid of going out”

It is not hard to realise that the absence of these supports would translate into poor mental well being; a fact all too sadly confirmed by the shocking statistics related to self harm and suicide figures for LGBTQI+ people. This means that it is no exaggeration to say that LGBT Health and Wellbeing provide what can truthfully be called ‘life saving services’. 

The high prevalence of mental health issues within the LGBTQI+ community has been recognised by LGBT Health and Wellbeing now working in partnership with See Me, the organisation working to challenge the stigma which can be associated with mental ill health. This partnership supports See Me Proud Champions. One Champion told us that they don’t always seek ‘understanding’ from other people but they do seek ‘acceptance’. For me this is crucial in all walks of life. We may not be able to understand any individual’s particular circumstances, but we are each entitled to acceptance and when in need of support a sincere effort to meet our needs.

Linked to that is the need for each of us to remember that we all belong to more than one community of identity. One person told us “I’m bisexual, poly amorous, disabled and over 50”. Those who study social sciences refer to this as ‘intersectionality’ but it is a reminder that we are all individuals and so nobody should be pigeon-holed into a ‘one size fits all’ service.

LGBT Health and Wellbeing's support services

The AGM focused on services provided in Glasgow. What was news to me was that nearly 47% of users of some groups are from the refugee and asylum seeker community. On reflection this is not surprising because a person’s sexuality or gender identity remains an issue which has legal implications in far too many countries globally. The death penalty for being gay still exists in some places and one person told us that he would have faced life imprisonment if he had remained in his home country. So, a person’s sexuality or gender identity is often the single reason for fleeing their homeland. 

As well as moving testimony from people using LGBT Health and Wellbeing’s services, we were also shown two films. One entitled ‘Everything just Collapsed’ in which people explored their everyday lives highlighting issues of stigma and isolation but also showing us more positive things about what they enjoy doing too.

The second film was called ‘Return to the Closet’ this highlighted the dilemma faced by older people who may now be facing the need for support services at home or who are in need of residential care. People spoke of not wanting to be judged by Care Assistants, or other professionals and some are so fearful of adverse judgement that they ‘edit’ their own home environment to hide their sexuality. E.g. removing photographs of them with their partner. One person in the film spoke of the fact that people don’t ‘come out’ only once but that meeting any new person means that disclosing one’s sexuality might be an issue. This becomes even more significant if the person in question is somebody who will provide care or make decisions about your care in the future.

One member of staff told us about an older couple who had lived together for many decades but who were about to be placed in separate care homes because nobody had recognised that they were a couple. Only after he had intervened and undertaken some considerable work was it possible for them to be looked after together, as a couple. 

Most inspiring of all was to hear that a person in their 90s was being supported with acknowledging their transgender identity. LGBT Health and Wellbeing are helping this person to navigate the difficult process of gaining acceptance from adult offspring who feel that their parent has simply ‘lost it’ and is misguided in their belief that they are a transgender person.

Just different

For me as an unreconstructed hippy, now in my sixties, there was also a bit of homework to do in learning more about the importance of how to address people e.g. the appropriate use of pronouns. I need to improve my own knowledge of differing gender and sexuality identities. As with all issues of equality it can be easy to be inadvertently offensive but it falls to all of us to put in a bit of effort to find out for ourselves how we can avoid that and so I would recommend that each of us who think that we “just can’t keep up with it all” should at least try.

We won’t always get it right but another message from childhood rings in my ears. People are different from each other that is not better or worse – just different. Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, that means with acceptance and respect, kindness and generosity of spirit. We are all people and we each deserve acceptance. In fact, we could do better than that and relish the differences we find in other people and rejoice in the wonderful diversity that is humanity and that we are not all the same.

You can read the LGBT Health and Wellbeing's 2018/19 report here.

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