As a registered nurse and healthcare writer and editor for more than 25 years, I routinely wrote or assigned stories to freelance writers about the health of LGBT individuals. I did this not only because I am a nurse, but also because I thought the subject was worthy of coverage. I believed our nurse readers should be aware of the specific health needs of their LGBT patients.
I followed LGBT issues even more closely when my son told my husband and I that he was gay about four years ago. At that time, I was working again as a nurse in a charitable clinic. Unfortunately, I quickly realized to my dismay and disappointment that there are far too many homophobic healthcare providers.
For exampIe, a couple of years ago I attended a session about LGBT health at an Equality Illinois conference. An RN educator from the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago told the attendees that she had used a federal grant to develop a training program about LGBT health needs for nurses. She traveled to different hospitals around the Midwest offering the program. But few people showed up at her presentations, she lamented. She was told that nurses weren’t interested.
It never occurred to me that some physicians and nurses might discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals. I am pretty certain that during my nursing education I was taught to be nonjudgmental and to care for the physical and emotional needs of all my patients, no matter who they were or how I might personally feel about them. And as a journalist, it was hammered into my head to be objective and to gather the facts wherever the story may lead. My opinions didn’t count.
I sincerely do not understand how any physician or nurse will not provide appropriate care to LGBT people. But apparently it happens. My wonderful women’s health nurse practitioner says she sees many lesbians because other ob/gyn practices make them feel uncomfortable or won’t see them at all.
I am open about my son’s sexuality in my professional, as well as personal life. When I hear a homophobic comment or statement, I don’t stand idly by, whether people like it or not. I risked fracturing a work relationship with an ob/gyn when she made a derogatory statement about lesbians. I told her my son was gay and that I did not appreciate her misguided beliefs.
Another time I had a heated discussion with a colleague about homosexuality in the middle of the clinic. The other nurses stood around stunned, not sure what to do. I was not about to back down to the other nurse’s statements implying my son was a sinner because he is gay. Finally the office manager interceded and said we should stop since neither of us was willing to cede to the other.
Later that day, the nurse I had argued with, and whom I otherwise really like, came to me with tears in her eyes and said she did not mean to upset me. I told her my son was a wonderful, caring young man and that I just wanted her to rethink what her church had told her to believe about gay people.
I don’t around go around provoking confrontations. Like many people, I avoid conflict whenever possible. But I am now convinced that homophobia will not be extinguished until more heterosexual people, such as parents, nurses, and doctors, begin to openly challenge homophobia in whatever setting they find it. I know that the nurses and physicians I work with are more aware of, if not questioning, their own behaviors and beliefs toward LGBT people. Had I stayed silent, that would not be true.