LGBT+ History Month

LGBT+ History month is a chance to highlight the history of LGBT+ people in the UK.  It started in 2005 and the original aim was to teach young people in schools about the history of the LGBT+ Rights Movement.  It is now also celebrated by other organisations and promotes a society inclusive for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Whilst there are many eminent scientists from the LGBT+ community there is very little in the way of  LGBT+ history in medical physics and clinical engineering. So we need to start making our own and therefore have asked some of our members to share their own personal history and experiences. 

We will add more personal stories throughout the month.

Robert Farley  (he / him)

Head of Medical Physics & Engineering,  (Consultant Clinical Scientist, Radiotherapy Physics) Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
IPEM President

Where on the LGBTQ+ spectrum do you identify?
Gay, although I also use the term queer.

What does your work involve?
I am responsible for ensuring robust governance and providing strategic direction for a large Medical Physics & Engineering Department comprising Radiological Physics & Radiation Protection, Radiotherapy Physics, Clinical Engineering, Scientific Computing, Radiotherapy Physics, Radionuclide & MRI Physics.   I also look after the trust's  medical and scientific equipment capital procurement programme.

What challenges have you faced being LGBTQ+? 
I guess this can be answered on two levels.  My personal challenge is that of growing up in the 1970s and 80s as an LGBTQ+ person with no point of reference to my own identity or positive / any role models; but knowing I was different and it still surprises me how much of an impact that still has in my life today.   To some extent the personal challenge today is how to be my LGBTQ+ self in a professional context.  I'm still working on this and not entirely sure that I have got it quite right yet.

In a professional sense, there are many challenges, but one that I often encounter is that of helping cis-straight people understand that a person's sexual orientation and gender identity are very relevant to the workplace.  It's surprising how often that you hear that these are of no relevance.  

What changes could be made to achieve a more inclusive work environment?
It's often really little things that can make a big difference:  use of gender neutral language and people routinely describing their pronouns would make a significant difference to start with.   There is also something about visibility and  representation so it would be good to see more use of same-sex families on posters and in leaflets in a healthcare setting.

What is IPEM doing well for the LGBTQ+ community and it's members?
I think that IPEM has listened and acted.  Members of the LGBTQ+ community of interest have worked to produce some really good updated, inclusive versions of patient information posters about radiation imaging; very significant first step into this area

What should / could IPEM be doing to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion?
There is more that IPEM could be doing itself, for instance for more inclusive meetings and events, when they become in-person again, such as name badges with pronouns on, all-gender facilities etc.    In addition IPEM could develop provide more guidance on the role that Medical Physics and Engineering professions have in creating more inclusive environments in the workplace and healthcare more generally.  I think that, given the nature of our work, it has a role in ensuring that devices and particularly clinical software are more inclusive; how often does software have just 'male' or 'female' as gender options..

What do you think that the medical physics profession could learn from the  LGBTQ+ community and their experiences?
I think that the LGBTQ+ community and the Medical Physics & Engineering community are quite similar in that they are small and a minority made up many smaller minorities.   The LGBTQ+ community have a long history of the different identities providing support to each other and working together to achieve significant change and perhaps there is something here that the MPCE professional community could learn from.

Anything else to add?
It would be great to see the IPEM flag at a pride event one day...

 

Gavin Kirby (he / they)

Radiotherapy Physicist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre

Where on the LGBTQ+ spectrum do you identify?
I'm a gay man.

What does your work involve?
I currently rotate between our different sections: dosimetry physics, treatment planning, and imaging related to radiotherapy. My background has also involved scientific computing related to medical physics, such as developing and commissioning bespoke software applications, data analysis, and data visualization.

What challenges have you faced being LGBTQ+?  Bit of personal history maybe?
I guess I'd say the culture (academic and otherwise) around science is largely quite socially conservative in a lot of different ways, which even a few non-LGBT folk I've known have pointed out. Moreover, I've struggled a lot in my earlier life in terms of being marginalized and thereafter rebuilding my confidence, and I do think that cis-straight people's ignorance is the biggest obstacle here. I'm happy to say that I've been fairly fortunate in most of my adult life (school was a different matter, but I guess that's so typical of an LGBT+ person's life story that it's almost a trope in itself) in that I've not faced too many direct challenges. Of course, I'm quite aware that as a cis white university educated broadly gender conforming gay man, I have quite a few forms of societal privilege that are de facto denied to many others.

For my part, I'd say the difficulty in functioning in a more conservative work environment (certainly when compared to e.g. university) has more to do with a lack of awareness, manifesting e.g. in occasional inappropriate questions, or just statements that belie a certain cluelessness about how people who aren't cis-straight live their lives. The forms in which this has manifested in my life were mostly benign, if at times a little grating, but it's not hard for me to envisage that other people might find that they pose a more serious problem. There was a memorably cringey incident when I was a first-year trainee, involving a couple of physicists asking me which of two pin-up girls I found more attractive, in what I suppose was some sort of misguided attempt to establish a sense of male camaraderie in a tediously "locker-room bravado" macho way. Obviously shockingly unprofessional on many levels, but it didn't seem to occur to them that there could well be an entirely different way in which it was a singularly inappropriate question to ask.

 What changes could be made to achieve a more inclusive work environment?
I don't want to go too far down the rabbit-hole of implying that it's primarily the responsibility of an embattled or marginalized social minority group's members to advocate for the group in mainstream society (even if that is in practice what usually happens). It's ultimately on cis-straight people to learn how to be accommodating. But nonetheless, I think there are a few things (such as this!) that we can do to increase visibility relatively easily.  I also think efforts to normalize more inclusive language can be hugely beneficial, and using it helps to demonstrate to people who have less direct awareness of sexuality and gender issues that inclusivity can cost very little, while socially exclusionary attitudes can cost quite a lot.

What is IPEM doing well for the LGBTQ+ community and its members? What should / could IPEM be doing to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion?
I feel our [LGBTQ Community] SIG is a useful starting point, although perhaps awareness of it and what it's for could be increased. More visibility is never a bad thing! Wider representation at LGBT+ events such as LGBTSTEMinar, as well as generic IPEM and medical physics events, would also be helpful, I feel. It's important that outreach is inclusive and reflects the full diversity of people working in a profession, and an overly homogenized picture, such as tends to be painted by an unreflectively socially conservative culture, doesn't ultimately do our community (or the wider community) any favours. I suspect that it's needlessly off-putting to capable younger people who might well be drawn to, say, studying and working in a discipline that involves a lot of problem solving, quantitative reasoning, etc, but find the apparent lack of people who look like them a little jarring.

 What do you think that the medical physics profession could learn from the LGBTQ+ community and their experiences?
It's important to bear in mind that our profession serves everyone, and to be ever mindful of the various dimensions of diversity that people embody. It matters (as others have aptly pointed out here) in our interactions with patients and the wider public, as well as with one another.


 

 

Medical Physicist (she / her)

Where on the LGBTQ+ spectrum do you identify?
I identify as Trans and Queer

What does your work involve?
I work in radiotherapy physics, performing treatment planning and checking, quality assurance testing of linear accelerators, answering clinical queries and service development work such as commissioning new treatment planning systems.

What challenges have you faced being LGBTQ+?  Bit of personal history maybe? 
Coming out at work was very intimidating but everyone was very supportive at both a local and trust level. There’s a lot of logistical challenges changing your pronouns, with a lot of organisations being very reluctant. The GP was the worst for me! ​They kept making excuses not to change my details and it wasn't until I managed to get a private appointment with a specialist and get them to contact my GP on my behalf that they agreed to change things. It really felt ​like they just didn't want to know, it's still pretty awkward getting my prescriptions from them.  I’ve had some challenges outside work but inside work I feel I’ve generally been very lucky with the odd exception (which is mostly mis-gendering).

What changes could be made to achieve a more inclusive work environment?
What really helped me locally was having a transition policy in place, where the majority of the administrative changes were handled by HR rather than me having to chase up.

What is IPEM doing well for the LGBTQ+ community and it's members?
The community of interest is really good to have.

What should / could IPEM be doing to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion?
I’m not sure, perhaps a meeting or some awareness raising? How to support LGBTQ+ patients and make less assumptions (about patients and maybe in general!).

Anything else to add?
Thanks for the opportunity to post!


Erin Donovan  (they / them)

Healthcare Scientist working at East Kent Hospitals in Diagnostic Radiology & Radiation Protection.

Where on the LGBTQ+ spectrum do you identify?
I identify as non-binary and queer

What does your work involve?
I perform quality assurance tests on imaging systems used in radiology departments, including X-ray units, CT scanners and ultrasound machines. I look after the personal radiation monitoring of any staff using ionising radiation in the Trust, and I'm involved in providing training about relevant legislation covering radiation (mainly IRR & IR(ME)R). 

What challenges have you faced being LGBTQ+?  Bit of personal history maybe? 
As a teenager, I was bullied for being gay before I even knew what that meant (I was brought up in a very cis-heternormative household, and thanks to Section 28, we weren't taught about homosexuality at school until well after I'd already come out).  I've been harrassed while out in public for holding hands with partners and haven't always felt secure to come out in work environments for fear of being treated differently.

What changes could be made to achieve a more inclusive work environment?
Normalising inclusive practices such as sharing pronouns in email footers, avoiding using unnecessarily gendered language in meetings (e.g. saying "welcome everyone" instead of "welcome ladies & gentlemen"), and ensuring policies or patient documentation use inclusive language, and enables people to self identify wherever possible.

What is IPEM doing well for the LGBTQ+ community and it's members?
The IPEM LGBTQ Community group is a great source of support, and has had important discussions around inclusivity of literature available to patients regarding procedures involving ionising radiation. This lead to work with the Clinical Imaging Board to revise their existing patient information posters to make them more inclusive of the trans/non-binary community. 

What should / could IPEM be doing to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion?
IPEM could sign up to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to further review their performance in LGBTQ+ inclusion.

What do you think that the medical physics profession could learn from the  LGBTQ+ community and their experiences?
I think that it's important to remember to treat every person as an individual and to not make assumptions because not everyone will conform to our typical experiences. For example, a trans man might require a radiotherapy plan for ovarian cancer, or a trans woman may require a PET-CT for assessing spread of prostate cancer. Everyone has a unique lived experience, and it's important to take this into consideration when you're interacting with people - whether they're patients or colleagues.

Anything else to add?
Making one small change to be more inclusive can make a huge difference to someone, and it can also propagate to make even bigger changes throughout departments & organisations as a whole.

 

Amelia Cripps (they/them)

Trainee Medical Physicist in Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic Radiology at Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Where on the LGBTQ+ spectrum do you identify?
I’m queer and non-binary. Queer in the sense that as a person outside of the gender binary, other sexuality labels don’t reflect my experience, so I choose to leave that label ambiguous.

What does your work involve?
I’m on the Scientist Training Programme, in my 2rd year out of 3, so I’m learning the deep inner workings of the nuclear medicine and diagnostic radiology departments. Typical work I’ll be doing is auditing the dose that patients are receiving from a certain procedure; assisting with quality checks on our scanners to make sure they’re giving/receiving the right amount of radiation; and helping out with any problems we run into in the department, such as strange image artefacts.

What challenges have you faced being LGBTQ+?  Bit of personal history maybe?
It took me 16 months at my job before I felt comfortable/brave enough to come out to my colleagues as non-binary. In my workplace, I hadn’t knowingly met another LGBTQ+ scientist, so there were no guaranteed comrades for me when I decided to come out. The increasingly transphobic environment in the UK was the major source of fear for me; you never know who has been reading that media and has that transphobia rooted in their worldview. Thankfully my team have been supportive, and now it gives me a thrill to read that I’ve been gendered correctly in comments about myself.

This was my first full-time job out of uni and I found it extremely hard to transition (pardon the pun) from being surrounded by a merry band of queers at all times to being in the very straight workplace environment. Hopefully now that I’ve come out and no longer feel that I have to suppress who I am at work, I will gradually start to feel more comfortable.

I’d also like to note that as a white person, my experience had a level of privilege not afforded to QTIPOC (Queer, Trans, Intersex People of Colour) community members.

What changes could be made to achieve a more inclusive work environment?
I’m a massive advocate for removing all the gendered vocabulary from procedures and guidance surrounding pregnancy, breast/chestfeeding, and mammography. It’s pretty out-dated to assume that these areas only concern ‘women’ and ‘mothers’, and it can be dangerous too – if a trans man isn’t asked whether he could be pregnant before receiving a radiation dose, it could have serious consequences.

I also think it’s so important for people to be aware of the specific needs that transgender/non-binary/gender-non-conforming people have in a medical setting. A huge amount of people from these groups actively avoid healthcare out of fear of discrimination, both active and passive, and the lack of knowledge and training on these issues is only perpetuating the problem. Examples of these specific needs might be: have you asked your patient if their recorded name matches their preferred name, and asked them for their pronouns? Have you considered the dysphoria and discomfort that your patient may feel when you discuss their chest, genitals and reproductive organs? Have you been discreet whilst asking them if they could be pregnant, so as not to ‘out’ them to a busy waiting room?

These things may feel like too much to consider, but when these people feel so anxious and disregarded that they avoid healthcare, we should do everything we can to mitigate that, and spread some confidence back into the community that they will be treated with respect and have their identity honoured.

What is IPEM doing well for the LGBTQ+ community and its members?
Things like this! Helping LGBTQ+ members be visible.

What should / could IPEM be doing to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion?
It would be lovely to see all contributors add their pronouns into their email signatures – it makes it a little more friendly for trans people/ to add theirs and not stick out like a sore thumb.

What do you think that the medical physics profession could learn from the  LGBTQ+ community and their experiences?
That it’s hard being LGBTQ+! The world wasn’t designed for us, so any small changes you can make in your workplace to make us feel seen and respected would be joyous!

Anything else to add?
Power to all my trans siblings, especially those whose experiences are made more difficult by racism, transmisogyny, ableism and classism.


 

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