Hi, my name’s Rae, and my pronouns are they/them. For the last 3 years I’ve been the Technology Enhanced Learning Manager for the Trust, and I have been part of the LGBTQ+ staff network since its inception in 2019.   

Today was the last day of Pride 2022 and ELHT’s own Pride celebration, and is a day of mixed feelings for me as it’s also my last day with the Trust.

I wanted to tell you a story about how my experiences with ELHT, as a colleague but also as an LGBTQ+ patient, have changed over the last few years.

My first real ‘visit’ to an ELHT service happened in 2018, not long after I moved to the area and only a couple of months after I came out to my family. I’d had horrendous pain in my back and side for three days and 111 advised me to attend A&E.

Now, let me say, A&E at 2am is an experience. To everyone who works there, you are amazing and I can only express my awe. I was triaged pretty quickly. Part of that process, especially with the location of my pain, was to ask if I could be pregnant. I said no, and the nurse and I had a little laugh about how getting me pregnant was outside my (then) girlfriend’s skillset.

Even though I was laughing, my heart was racing. I just told a medical Rae.jpgprofessional I had a girlfriend. That was the first time I ever said that in an official capacity.

Over the next five hours, I was asked no less than four times if I could be pregnant and two pregnancy tests were conducted. The fourth time I was asked - upon reiterating ‘I have a girlfriend!’ - I got told that as I had mentioned being bisexual, they ‘had to ask’. ‘You never know’, I was told. That one really hit me. It felt like they were accusing me of cheating on my partner.

I have to say, the care I got for my physical health was fantastic, and after a three-day spell on a ward I was discharged. I wish I had a memory for names to thank everyone for that side of things. But the impact on my confidence as a newly out person was significant, and it’s stayed with me for a long time.

Fast forward just over a year from then, and I had started work for the Trust. I think I arrived at just the right time, because within a few months the LGBTQ+ Staff Network came to life and I was very kindly invited to join. The goal of the Network is to improve the experience of LGBTQ+ staff and patients in the Trust and raise the awareness of colleagues of how best to support people from the community.

A lot of work went into getting the group up and running, and I wish I could have helped more to be honest. The energy, passion and commitment of the Network members, and all the EDI Network members in fact, is humbling. Most of the work is done in people’s own time and we have both LGBTQ+ staff members and allies in the Network.

Joining the Rainbow Badge scheme was a huge step forward for us as a Trust and, to date, we have issued well over 1,000 certificates and/or badges to colleagues who’ve wanted to know more about the LGBTQ+ community and let patients and colleagues know that they are seen and valued. The group has reviewed and written policies, created learning resources, listened to people’s questions, helped direct colleagues just starting to explore their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression to services that can give them more information, and we particularly want to look at how we can better support trans patients in our care.

Things have changed a lot over the last few years. We had our first ELHT Pride in 2020. This year, the town of Blackburn had its first Pride, with the Network running a stall on behalf of ELHT for what was a wonderful day of colour and celebration. 2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of Pride in the UK, a real landmark for the LGBTQ+ community that reminds us of all the work behind us and how much there is still to be done.
But what stood out for me personally is that, two months ago, I found myself back in A&E at 2am with similar symptoms. I promise this is not a regular occurrence! I went in with a level of dread, but also the confidence of someone who has seen support around them for the last few years. I needn’t have worried. I was asked, right at the start, if there was any chance of pregnancy – this is a reasonable and clinically important question. I said ‘no’ and explained that my last relationship was with a woman, so pregnancy wasn’t possible. A note was made, and no one asked me again. I felt heard. It might not sound like much, but not having to defend myself against stereotypes and bias took so much pressure away from what was already a very stressful and vulnerable time.

I am not saying that these two very different experiences were solely the result of the work of the Network, but I do think that increased visibility has had an impact. I’d like to thank everyone who has taken time to open themselves to the experiences of others, and embraced compassion and inclusion in their practice. As I move on to pastures new, it’s that last experience I will take with me.

Wishing everyone a lovely Pride, and don’t forget to share your selfies with the ELHT Inclusion Twitter @ELHT_Inclusion.