What makes a good LGBTQ+ ally?

by Simon Tavabie

There are good examples of supporting LGBTQ+ doctors in the workplace and med school that all organisations can learn from

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 13 June 2022
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I feel that good LGBTQ+ allies are curious to know how things feel at the moment and how things can be better.

A good example I experienced of this was while working with a hospital palliative care team. We had a couple of occasions where some members of our team felt less aware of issues facing trans and non-binary patients and, as a result, less able to meet their needs.

As a department there was a culture of open discussion about areas we could improve and this was discussed freely and without judgement.

The team did not assume that they knew how to improve things, did not assume that they would be able to come up with the answers themselves or speak for other people’s experiences.

They looked outwards and actively sought information from advocacy groups and eventually organised for people with lived experience to come in and have conversations to inform them and guide developments in the service.

What really stood out to me from this situation and really demonstrated active allyship was that these colleagues did not merely seek out a member of the LGBTQ+ community and lean on them to provide insights on what to do.

Instead, they were active in their approach, curious about the issues and sought people from within the community who have positioned themselves in advocacy roles to help guide them to do better. They took the responsibility for educating themselves, rather than placing that burden on people from a marginalised group.

Organisations should behave like collections of allies. They should be curious about experiences that are good and less good, they should be actively involved in conversations about where things can be improved.

They should be transparent about their values and priorities and accountable where these are not upheld.

I remember at my university one of the values was to respect each person as an individual. After a challenge from an LGBTQ+ student, the university listened and actively developed solutions to create a more inclusive environment.

This included a system whereby when you attended student services and were required to provide a written summary of what you were there for, you could pick colour-coded paper to indicate what your pronouns were, precluding a sometimes uncomfortable conversation, or worse, misgendering of a vulnerable person.

Though there is still more to do, for many cis/straight or heterosexual allies, knowing someone who is lesbian, bisexual, gay or queer and how to support them in the workplace is much more common now. Unfortunately, there is much less certainty and confidence when we discuss inclusion of our trans and non-binary friends and family.

We know from research from Stonewall that around half of trans people hide their identity in the workplace for fear of discrimination and that trans people are significantly more likely to be victims of crime than cisgender individuals.

The need is real, present and growing for active allies to educate themselves about the issues facing trans and non-binary individuals and how they can best support their colleagues, friends and family.

Simon Tavabie is co-chair of BMA North Thames regional junior doctors committee