We recently conducted a quick twitter poll on #LGBTCancerHour (Sundays 8-9pm) to find out whether people thought health professionals need extra training to deal with LGBT patients.
The response was interesting as it highlighted to us that many have never really thought about this as an issue. A few people were immediately defensive of the NHS and what a wonderful job they do and others, some of whom were medical professionals themselves stated that they treat everyone with care and respect regardless of whether they are LGBT or not.
I guess for me it highlighted that the question was a sensitive one. Most of us consider ourselves to be accepting of the LGBT community but its not what we do, but how what we do is perceived that matters.
As the husband of a man diagnosed with a terminal illness I have seen how wrong people can get it, no matter how well meaning they are.
After diagnosis but before treatment my husband and I had to sit through the chat about how his fertility would be affected by the chemotherapy. He was invited to have his sperm harvested and frozen. It was only after we pointed out neither of us had child bearing hips that the nurse acknowledged that she understood we were a couple but she had to do the chat anyway so everyone is treated the same.
A lesbian friend gave a similar account of how she was invited to take a pregnancy test despite never having sex with a man. A nurse friend confirmed that this is usual for women of child bearing age but, at best this is a waste of resources and at worse an invasion of privacy. Surely she shouldn’t be forced to take the test and certainly shouldn’t be forced to justify her reluctance by having to out herself. What if she was a transgender woman?
I don’t recall any health professional we encountered appearing homophobic or anything other than professional and courteous but my husband was presumed heterosexual, even after his death. There were several occasions when I had to explain how he was not my brother or friend but my Civil partner (we didn’t get a chance to change our civil partnership to a marriage). The absence of intent didn’t make those situations less hurtful though.
My observation is that medical professionals want to get it right, they want to make us better and they really do care. As a community we need to help them do their job and help them understand what we want, thats what LGBT Cancer Support aim to do. Help us to help you and take our survey, it’s twelve questions and we would really appreciate your feedback.