Celebrating LGBT+ History Month: healthcare

February 27, 2024

Photo by cottonbro studio at Pexels

Jamie Aldridge discusses LGBT+ healthcare, overcoming challenges and embracing progress

Every February the UK celebrates LGBT+ History Month, a month dedicated to recognising the rich history of the queer community, how the LGBT+ equality movement enriches our present society and how queer people are shaping our future.

It’s a time to reflect on the progress we’ve made in advancing equality and human rights, while also acknowledging that there’s still important work that remains to be done.

There is both compelling and consistent evidence found in an NHS England report showing that LGBT+ people have disproportionately worse experiences of healthcare and health outcomes. As a trans person I can strongly relate to this; we still have a long way to go to make healthcare inclusive for trans and non-binary people.

Luckily, there are people out there working hard to diversify healthcare, namely LGBT professionals themselves! LGBT clinicians bring diverse perspectives, having experienced health inequalities themselves as a result of their queer identity.

We couldn’t have made this much progress without historical figures that paved the way for the modern LGBT+ rights movement. Anglo-Irish, Michael Dillon was the first trans man to transition medically. A philosopher, author and surgeon himself, Dillon underwent hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery performed by Harold Gillies, a groundbreaking surgeon known as the father of modern plastic surgery.

As well as working in healthcare, Dillon raised awareness of what we would call gender nonconformity, writing Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology. This is thought to be the first medical text that discusses trans identities and transitioning.

It’s important to recognise that allies can contribute to LGBT people’s health and wellbeing

Dillon said, “People thought I was a woman. But I wasn’t. I was just me.” Although the terms ‘trans’ and ‘transgender’ didn’t become commonplace until after his death in 1962, I feel this quote would resonate with many trans and non-binary people today: You can read more about Michael Dillon here.

It’s also important to recognise that allies can contribute to LGBT people’s health and wellbeing, such as the tireless work of Ruth Coker Burks during the height of the AIDS crisis in the USA.

Coker Burks is a Methodist, a single mother, a real estate agent, but not a medical professional. Yet she improved countless lives tirelessly campaigning for the rights of men with HIV and AIDS during the 1980s and 90s. At a time when homosexuality was still highly stigmatised, even speaking up on behalf of these men was impressive; many nurses would often refuse to treat patients with AIDS.

Despite the stigma, Coker Burks arranged rides to appointments for men affected by AIDS. She obtained medication, applied for housing and financial assistance and delivered food parcels. Coker Burks also raised awareness of safe sex practices, and even arranged funerals, working with up to a thousand people over three decades.

She details her decades of advocacy work in her memoir All The Young Men, a sensitive yet powerful account of the discrimination these men faced and the benefit of simple human kindness.

LGBT+ History Month reminds us of the progress in growing equality but also the ongoing challenges, notably in healthcare, especially for trans and non-binary individuals. Dedicated professionals are working to improve services, drawing from their lived experiences. Pioneers like Michael Dillon and Ruth Coker Burks inspire activism.

Together, we can create a future where everyone has equitable access to care. Join us!