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LGBTQ inclusivity: fact or fiction?

Colin Mudd looks back over the last 40 years in this personal account of LGBTQ issues within the NHS and pathology workforce.

I was delighted to be asked to write about my experience of the inclusivity in our profession of LGBTQ people. The fact that it coincides with LGBTQ History Month resonates particularly with me, as I have had the pleasure of working as a biomedical scientist for over 40 years (44 years, to be precise, on 4 October this year).

As an “old fossil” that has only ever worked at a single trust for all of these years, I can look back over the decades and see how things have changed and, 
in my view, improved.

This article represents my personal journey and opinions expressed are mine alone. I have had some input from colleagues around the country and thank them for sharing their thoughts and experiences with me.

“I see quite a number of other LGBTQ people throughout pathology and it heartens me to see them accepted”

Secretive and covert

For me, society in the mid-1970s was a very different place compared with today. Being a gay teenager was not the easiest thing in those days; one had to be 
secretive and covert in so many aspects of life.  Fortunately, I have had very few significant negative experiences.  However, those that I have had were fairly major.

I vividly recall in the late 70s being “queer bashed” and having to explain it away as a mugging. Equally, I recall with sadness being asked to leave a church that I had regularly attended as apparently I was a “divisive influence”. It was quite obvious what the real reason was.

I became reacquainted with one of the people from that church a few years ago and was told that everyone was so surprised I had stopped attending 
– they were never told the reason. Add to that of course name calling and other forms of verbal abuse, but over the years one learns to live with it. However, from my experience, this form of abuse has become far less popular. Of course, it very much depends on the society one mixes with.

Acceptance in the profession

In the laboratory, my first manager was very kind and generous to me and, in fact, I came out to him before my own family. Typically, his reply was “that’s no surprise, I knew already and just wanted you to tell me”. He was tremendously supportive for me coming out to my parents.

Professionally, I have encountered very little negativity, although I did hear that a consultant from another department was playing golf with my manager one day and he commented “you’ve got one of them in your department haven’t you?” Other than that, very little was said directly to me. I recall being described 
as “flamboyant” – perhaps an alternative term for being gay in the 70s and 80s.

Now as a self-confessed and proud “Old Queen” I feel completely at home. I see quite a number of other LGBTQ people throughout pathology, which heartens me when I visit other laboratories around the country and see the diversity throughout our profession.

Some hospitals are particularly enthusiastic about LGBTQ issues and this can make a great atmosphere and a diverse workforce. However, a friend of mine struggled in their workplace and was accused of trying to “gay” the department by employing LGBTQ people. They were also victim to the ignorance 
of people regarding AIDS in the 1980s – colleagues would leave the tearoom as he entered (assuming that all gay men were a risk).

I also recall colleagues refusing to perform a manual test on an HIV-positive sample, saying “I’m not putting myself at risk, it’s their fault – they deserve it”.  

So, while it hasn’t always been an easy or pleasurable journey my experiences over the last 15 to 20 years have been particularly uneventful, which is a truly good thing. Working in an environment where you can feel completely at ease makes for a much happier, comfortable atmosphere and, of course, a much more effective team.

“Being LGBTQ should be as mundane as having brown or blonde or (in my case) grey hair”

Tolerance and acceptance

So, what is the way forward? Where do we go from here and how do we improve our situation? Perhaps the responsibility lies with us all. The majority of us work for the NHS, where inclusivity should be inherent in the culture and part of a trust’s policy. That said, I am sure there are many people out there with much more unpleasant stories to tell. Being in a professional environment with educated people does not preclude ignorance. I do wonder what it must be like for our transgender friends and colleagues at other hospital laboratories. They have such a difficult time both from a personal perspective and, I imagine, professionally. In a hospital environment I only personally know two transgender people, both of whom are completely accepted by their colleagues. So perhaps I might add a little more to the tolerance and acceptance idea, that we should be open and honest with one another.

Long journey

I am particularly averse to the idea of “gay rights”. I do not underestimate the struggle that some people have undertaken to get us to the point in our history. But it seems like a political statement to say that LGBTQ people deserve the same human rights as everyone else. Are we special cases? I love the idea that some people have said that they don’t know any gay people. Of course they do… But not everyone needs to 
wear a rainbow, a pink triangle or be flamboyant to be part of our community. Being LGBTQ should be as mundane as having brown or blonde or ( in my case) grey hair.

In response to the question – LGBTQ inclusivity: fact or fiction? – from my experience, we as a profession are tolerant and inclusive. But the journey is a long one and we are not yet at the end.  

Colin Mudd is a Higher Specialist Biomedical Scientist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.For LGBT+ History Month the IBMS is looking for members’ contributions, which will run as a series of blogs on the website. For more details, contact [email protected]


Picture Credit | iStock

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