The impact of violence on the LGBTQ+ community: a spotlight on healthcare workers

Back to: Blog

This is a guest blog post by Anya Soin, a SIS volunteer

Exploring the extent to which harassment and violence affect LGBTQ+ healthcare workers in the UK, and how well this reflects the attitudes of the wider population.

The month of June is Pride Month, dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ communities all over the world. The history of why Pride Month is celebrated in June is to mark the significance of the Stonewall Riots that took place on June 28th 1969, as they are widely viewed as a defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in both the United States and all around the world. Despite over 50 years having passed since these events, the LGBTQ+ community still faces many barriers today, and celebrating Pride allows a spotlight to be shone on these issues to raise awareness and show support. At Surviving in Scrubs, we stand with LGBTQ+ people. This piece will explore the themes of harassment and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community, with focus on their prevalence in healthcare services.

When looking at the general population, research evidence is clear that LGBTQ+ individuals face a much higher rate of harassment and violence. Research from the UCLA School of Law looking at the 2017 National Crime Victimisation Survey found that LGBTQ+ people are nearly 4 times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to experience violent victimisation; this includes rape, sexual assault and aggravated or simple assault. Additionally, they are around 6 times more likely to experience violence when the perpetrator well-known to them and around 2.5 times more likely to experience violence when the perpetrator is a stranger compared to non-LGTBQ+ individuals. Roughly half of these victimisations were not reported to the police . These findings are not isolated solely to this study, with the National LGBT Survey carried out by the UK government in July 2017 finding that at least 2 in 5 respondents had experienced verbal harassment or physical violence because they were LGBT in the 12 months preceding the survey, with more than 9 out of 10 if the most serious incidents going unreported. 68% of respondents said they had avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner in public due to fear of negative reactions from those around them. The survey also spotlighted that 38% of transgender respondents accessing general healthcare services reported negative experiences because of their gender identity, as well as 21% of transgender respondents reporting their specific needs being ignored or not considered when trying to access healthcare services.

It is upsetting but unsurprising that the same findings from the general population carry into the workplace, with LGBTQ+ people much more likely experience harassment or discrimination at work based on research findings. The section of the National LGBT Survey mentioned above that was focussed on the workplace found that 19% of respondents with a job in the preceding 12 months had not been open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with any colleagues at the same or lower level, with a higher proportion not being open with senior colleagues (30%) or with customers or clients (57%) due to fears of negative reactions.

The ‘LGBT in Britain – Trans Report’ published in 2018, based on research with 871 transgender and non-binary individuals, found that 1 in 8 transgender employees had been physically attacked by a colleague in the previous year. It also identified that 36% of transgender students in higher education had experienced harmful comments or behaviour from staff in the last year, demonstrating the widespread nature of these issues across many areas of life . When looking more specifically at how these issues affect LGBTQ+ individuals working in a healthcare setting, the research is more limited but similar conclusions have still been drawn. A survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors and Dentists (GLADD) titled ‘Sexual orientation and gender identity in the medical profession’ was carried out in 2022 as a follow up from research they carried out in 2016 looking at experiences of discrimination faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual doctors in the workplace. The aim of this recent survey was to explore if any progress towards better inclusion has been made, and to include the experiences of transgender and non-binary medics. This study also included medical students, and doctors who are not themselves members of the LGBTQ+ community to gain insight into their views. A key finding was that many people still do not feel comfortable in being completely open with everyone in their workplace about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, with only 46% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer respondents reporting they are open about their sexual orientation with everyone where they study or work. The figures were similar for transgender respondents, with only 34% feeling comfortable being open about their gender identity. This survey also brought to light the noticeable difference in views on the prevalence of homophobia, biphobia transphobia within medicine. Whilst 71% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer (LGBQ+) respondents think that homophobia and biphobia are issues in the wider profession, compared with only 26% of heterosexual respondents. Transphobia is more widely recognised as an ongoing issue within medicine with 49% of cisgender respondents reporting it as an issue in the wider profession compared to 84% of transgender respondents. The report makes it clear that experiencing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour within medicine is not uncommon, with ‘low-level microaggressions, jokes and banter’ even more commonplace.

The evidence on how sexism, sexual harassment and sexual violence impact LGBTQ+ healthcare workers is even more limited and there is a clear gap for more research to be carried out in this area. That being said, the true prevalence of these issues in the general healthcare population has only been uncovered by research in recent years, so hopefully in time we will have a wider evidence base to highlight the challenging realities faced by healthcare workers on a day-to-day basis. It goes without saying that it is extremely concerning to learn of the common nature of these behaviours, both towards staff and towards patients in a medical setting, and that experiencing or witnessing harassment will have a profoundly negative impact on many individuals. It is integral that we consider these statistics and take accountability as bystanders to create an environment of zero tolerance by calling out harmful behaviours as they occur, as well as educating ourselves and others on the issues that are faced by LGBTQ+ healthcare workers and the wider LGBTQ+ community.