To celebrate LGBT+ History Month, married couple Karen and Charlotte, who work at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, are sharing their story and encouraging other staff from the LGBT+ community and allies to join the Trust’s LGBT+ Staff Equality Network.
For many, in what has been a year like no other, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that many of us have taken the time to stop and pause to reflect on what really matters.
‘Body, Mind and Spirit’
This year the theme is ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’ and for Karen, who is the Trust’s Clinical Team Leader for the Integrated Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Liaison Service this is the first LGBT+ month she feels that she has taken the time to engage with it.
“In a way Covid has given me the headspace to really pause and take the opportunity to be more reflective and really take stock of what is important in life. I can imagine that a lot of people have been isolated by the pandemic and possibly struggling with their sexuality. I think it is important that we can show people that there is support out there and if by me sharing my story and experience helps just one person who might be stuck at home feel less isolated then it is worth it.
“I joined the staff LGBT+ Equality Network as I think it is an important that we are doing everything we can as a health care provider and employer to ensure our policies, procedures and documentation do not exclude anyone. I am really passionate about making sure everything we produce and how we support people is inclusive of everyone, no matter their background.
“I came out as a gay woman in 1996 and I remember being subjected to homophobic remarks in the workplace, not the IOW NHS Trust, and when I raised this with my line manager at the time I was told that ‘I should have kept quiet about it.’ The Employment Equality Regulations protecting gay employees from bullying did not come into effect until 2003.
“Things have definitely moved on since then and now there is legislation in place that is against homophobia. In a contrast to my experience when I first started out in my career the Isle of Wight NHS Trust as an employer has been open and welcoming and there have been no barriers to our career paths. I had some difficulty getting ‘paternity leave’ when our son was born in 2016 and this was fed back to HR who very responsively updated the policy to reflect same-sex couples.”
Mental Health Support Team in Schools
Karen’s wife, Charlotte who works as the Team leader for the Mental Health Support Team in Schools, is taking the opportunity of LGBT+ History month to share her story through ‘Out On An Island’ who are collating 100 years of LGBTQ+ oral histories of people who have a connection with the Island.
“I really enjoy writing and similar to Karen the pandemic and lockdown has meant that I have had that time to write about my experiences. I joined the network as I wanted to see what was out there in the Trust in terms of peer support. I think there is a lot of opportunity to develop the education and training material especially around how we can use inclusive language and images in our spoken and written communication.
“If I think back to when I started my professional career I didn’t tell anyone on placement that I was gay. People did make derogatory comments and this did cause a level of anxiety when I did eventually come out.
“It does feel very different now, I think we live in a more open and accepting society, however, there is still improvements to be made and challenges. I grew up on the Island and went to school when section 28 was still in force. Section 28 banned schools from ‘teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as pretended family relationship’. Not that I was consciously aware of it but on reflection on my time in school it makes sense as to why gay relationships were never discussed. I remember in ‘A’-level psychology discussing the classification and declassification as ‘homosexuality’ as a mental disorder.
“In 2005 the Civil Partnership Act was introduced and in 2011 an amendment was made to allow religious bodies to register same-sex civil partnerships. We had our Civil Partnership in 2013 in a Metropolitan Community Church.”
“When I came out I didn’t think that I was going to be able to get married or have children. However, we have come a long way since then and single sex partnerships and changes in the law to allow same sex marriages have helped to normalise being a gay person to society.”
Progress being made to become an inclusive employer of choice
Deputy Director for Organisational Development and Inclusion, Ricky Somal, said,
“LGBT+ History Month is a time for celebration and community, but we miss an important opportunity if we don’t dedicate this moment to the progress we are making to become an inclusive employer of choice and continually improve in realising equality outcomes in everything we do.
“Our priority must focus on how we can demonstrate due regard to eliminate unlawful discrimination, foster good relations inside and outside our organisation and promote equal opportunity to progress LGBT+ equality.
“The stories of ‘Our NHS People’ is so important and I really value hearing Karen and Charlotte’s experience of working in our organisation, as well as the fantastic contribution they bring to the LGBT+ Equality Staff Network. We all have a responsibility to foster a culture where people can bring their authentic self to work and we have a great opportunity to work together to realise this.
“We have three Equality Staff Networks; LGBT+, Disability and Race, all of which demonstrate how we are living and breathing inclusivity at our Trust, celebrating our amazing People and ensuring that we live up to our organisational values of ‘Everybody Counts’.”
News shared by Isle of Wight NHS Trust, in their own words. Ed