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Few people set out to discriminate against others on the grounds of their ethnicity or sexual orientation, but unintentional racism or homophobia is still commonplace. Evidence that this is the case was laid out last week in a hard-hitting report from the charity Stonewall and the Runnymede Trust think tank.
Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds about their experience of public services, including the NHS. Respondents recounted stories of casual and unintended prejudicial comments that sometimes had a devastating effect. At an institutional level, the interviewees observed that services are supposed to be 'culturally appropriate', yet do not always take into account the possibility that people may experience sexual orientation or homophobic discrimination from people in their own communities.
The report points out what nurses know: that an individual's health needs are affected by their sexual orientation, which makes it imperative that LGBT people can be open with the people caring for them. But as one respondent observed: 'When someone is black it will define how they are treated. There is little room in the system to consider the needs of someone who is gay as well.'
The upshot is that LGBT people from BME backgrounds are deterred from being open with nurses and other healthcare workers, and in some cases from accessing health services at all. Stonewall is not just bemoaning this state of affairs, it is trying to do something about it. The charity rightly points out that the solution lies in better training, so it is no longer the case that large numbers of NHS staff assume that people from BME backgrounds are heterosexual. It has produced a number of materials to help, which are all available from www.stonewall.org.uk and include practical guidance, posters and DVDs.
The report focuses only on the experience of patients, but no doubt it will resonate with LGBT nurses and healthcare assistants who are also from BME backgrounds, and with straight male nurses from all ethnic backgrounds who have to deal with assumptions that they are gay. Whether people are running a service or receiving it, they should be able to do so without prejudice.
Editorial | August 22 2012 | vol 26 no 51
Nursing Standard is published every Wednesday by RCN Publishing Company Ltd, the publishing company of the Royal College of Nursing.
It seeks to promote professional excellence, and encourage creativity and innovation in nursing, midwifery and health visiting practice. Nursing Standard also aims to enhance nurses' and healthcare assistants' career development and to help them achieve and maintain a healthy and rewarding working environment. Nursing Standard is editorially independent and the opinions expressed are not those of the RCN or of the contributor's employing organisation unless specifically stated.