Somewhere over the rainbow: June is the LGBT Pride month, by Michail Sanidas

Contribution by Michail Sanidas (pronouns: he/him), Senior Regional Programme Lead in NHS England and Improvement’s South West Talent Team.

Michail, the author, is smiling and standing in front of a tree, wearing a rainbow t-shirt which reads 'love'.Early on the morning of Saturday, June 28, 1969, officers from the New York City Police Department’s vice squad pulled up in front the Stonewall Inn—one of the city’s most popular gay bars, located in the Greenwich Village. The Stonewall Inn welcomed women, people of colour and drag queens, who received a frosty reception at other gay bars and clubs. It was a nightly home for many runaways and homeless gay youths. Stonewall Inn was one of the few gay bars where patrons could dance.

At the time, the NYPD vice squad routinely raided gay bars and patrons generally complied when they did, frightened by the possibility of being outed. The police would turn on the lights, line the customers up, and check their IDs. People without identification or dressed in drag would often be arrested.

But this was not the case that evening. Many of those dressed in drag refused to be escorted out by officers. Lots of patrons would not produce their IDs. A crowd began to grow outside the building, some posing and giving exaggerated salutes to the police. The authorities lost control of the situation and protests and demonstrations continued for several days. Lesbians and trans women of colour were some of the key people involved in the act of resistance, including Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.

Photo of Marsha P Johnson

 “You never completely have your rights, one person, until you all have your rights.” Quote by Marsha P Johnson- one of the protesters at Stonewall Inn & founding member of Gay Liberation Front.

The Stonewall uprising coincided with broader civil rights movements of the late 60s and led to the development of LGBT+ activism. The Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street; with simultaneous Gay Pride marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, these were the first Gay Pride marches in U.S. history. The next year, Gay Pride marches took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm.

This year marks the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We have come a long way in terms of LGBT+ equality. In terms of civil rights, same sex couples can now get married in the UK and other countries. There are more and more openly LGBT+ people in all aspects of public life: in politics, professional sports, armed services or CEOs.

I decided to come out during my day one of my NHS career journey, primarily because I thought it would be odd talking about my partner without using his name at my first job. Although I did face homophobia in one of my previous roles, I don’t regret my coming out decision. My lived experience is crucial to my leadership style but I do remind myself that not everyone is as fortunate as I have been. The 2020 NHS staff survey found that 14 per cent of gay or lesbian staff reported discrimination from patients or the public, and 12 per cent from their colleagues.

Pride is an opportunity to reflect on advances in LGBT+ civil rights during the past 5 decades and celebrate diversity in the community. It is a social justice issue to eradicate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, but this cannot be done in isolation without eradicating racism and other forms of discrimination within the LGBT+ communities. Pride also serves as a reminder that there is still a way to go in terms of addressing health inequalities and the discrimination that the community is facing for example the ongoing toxic debate about trans women being perceived as a threat to other women.

LGBT+ people are 1.5 times more likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to the rest of the population. The 2017 National LGBT+ Survey showed that at least 16% of survey respondents who accessed or tried to access public health services had a negative experience because of people’s reactions to their sexual orientation, and at least 38% had a negative experience because of people’s reactions to their gender identity. The Stonewall Health report found that 23% of respondents had witnessed discriminatory or negative remarks against LGBT+ people by healthcare staff.

The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe. There is a strong business case to have an inclusive workplace environment to attract LGBT+ talent to provide an appropriate service for the community. Leaders can show genuine curiosity and better understand the lived experience of this community- initiatives like reciprocal mentoring can help to this end. And finally, being an ally and calling out bad behaviour are a key to empowering people to bring their true self to work.

Some tips on how to be an LGBT Ally can be found on the Stonewall website.

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