LGBTQ+ History Month 2024

LGBTQ+ History Month- Under the Scope

LGBTQ+ History Month comes around each February, giving us the chance to celebrate and commemorate the history and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community.

This year’s theme is Medicine – #UnderTheScope, celebrating LGBTQ+ people’s contributions to medicine and healthcare, and encouraging us to listen to LGBTQ+ people’s lived experiences in these areas.

LGBTQ+ Relationship with Healthcare

The LGBTQ+ community has had, and continues to have, a fraught relationship with healthcare. LGBTQ+ people have disproportionately worse healthcare outcomes and continue to face discrimination in medical settings (NHS LGBTQ Health). In The 2017 National LGBT survey, 80% of trans respondents who accessed or tried to access gender identity services said it had not been easy, citing wait times and proximity (at the time of the survey there were no gender identity services in the Northwest or Wales) as factors. These kinds of services are essential for many trans and non-binary people to live happy and healthy lives, and the lack of access has forced many (who can afford to) to seek care outside the UK.

In addition, 5% of all survey respondents reported being offered conversion therapy. Despite calls from activists and repeated promises from the government, this practice has still not been banned in the UK.

Looking further back, during the 1980s the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) crisis was sweeping through the LGBTQ+ community. Stigmatizing laws, policies and public health messaging put out at the time reflected the negative attitudes society had towards LGBTQ+ people. These attitudes meant that LGBTQ+ people didn’t receive the quality care they deserved and were often treated very poorly. (Forty years of HIV). In fact, originally AIDS was called ‘GRID’ or Gay Related Immune Deficiency. This framing blamed those affected for their ‘immoral choices’, furthering the stigma the gay community already faced (Lessons learned from HIV can inform our approach to HIV stigma).

Contributions to Medicine

While the LGBTQ+ community as a whole has a turbulent relationship with medicine and healthcare, LGBTQ+ individuals have had an enormous impact in medicine and on the medical community.

In 1869 Sophia Jex-Blake led the campaign with six other women (together known as the Edinburgh Seven) to be admitted to Edinburgh University to study medicine. At the time, women were not allowed to study at university, and they faced an enormous amount of backlash and protest. They were prevented from finishing their course, but the public attention and support they garnered resulted in legislation that ensured women’s right to attend university eight years later in 1877 (Edinburgh Seven). After she died, her partner Dr Margaret Todd – who studied at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women that Jex-Blake established – prepared her biography.

Dr Alan L. Hart was an American doctor, radiologist, tuberculosis researcher, author and transman. After attending medical school Hart transitioned and began working in a San Francisco Hospital as an intern. Someone had recognized him from university though, when Hart was still presenting as a woman. The press caught wind and several horrible articles were published ‘outing’ him. Hart moved but stayed true to his identity. The cycle repeated, forcing him to continually relocate. Despite this, he persisted, going back to school to become a radiologist. He later pioneered the use of chest x-rays to diagnose Tuberculosis. At the time, it wasn’t common to screen people for this disease, and most were only treated once they showed symptoms. Tuberculosis is infectious and using this method to determine asymptomatic cases meant that they could separate TB patients from others, slowing the spread of the disease. Today we still use x-rays to diagnose TB! (Trailblazing Transgender Doctor Saved Countless Lives)

Of course, these are just two examples of the amazing contributions LGBTQ+ people have made to medicine over the years. More can be found on the Schools Out LGBT+ History Month page here!

At Red Balloon, we don’t give medical advice to students, but we do support them to live fully as their unique and authentic selves. We help our young people regain their confidence and resilience and earn qualifications that will help them pursue their dreams whether in the medical field or otherwise!

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