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Use of homophobic language is ‘common-place’ in NHS


A quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual health and social care staff have experienced homophobic abuse from colleagues in the last five years, according a latest survey results.

Research released today by Stonewall suggests that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are facing unhealthy attitudes from some health and social care professionals.

“There are worrying gaps in knowledge and training relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people”

Ruth Hunt

The YouGov research, conducted for the equality charity, surveyed 3,001 health and social care workers across the UK. The online survey was undertaken from 18 September to 17 October 2014. 

Workplace bullying was found to be commonplace in health and social work, claimed the charity, which has published the survey findings in a report called Unhealthy Attitudes.

One survey respondent, Amira, described as a nurse in the South West of England, said: “Managers tend to say ‘Oh, it’s only banter’.” 

A quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff said they had personally experienced homophobic, or biphobic, bullying from colleagues in the last five years. 

A similar percentage reported hearing colleagues make negative remarks about lesbian, gay or bisexual people, or use language like “poof” or “dyke” in the last five years.

However, 60% of staff who heard discriminatory remarks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people did not report them.

Meanwhile, it found that 10% of respondents directly involved in patient care had witnessed colleagues expressing the belief that lesbian, gay and bisexual people can be “cured” – rising to 22% in London.

“I work with a lot of gay, lesbian and trans nurses, and they are brilliant. I am proud to work with them and would definitely not accept discriminatory behaviours towards them”

Lucy, a nurse in London

In addition, the survey found trans people were subject to discrimination, with negative remarks or offensive language such as “tranny” and “she-male” being heard by 20% of staff from colleagues.

Stonewall noted that public bodies have a legal duty to advance equality and eliminate discrimination.

However, the charity said many survey respondents said they had received little or no equality and diversity training.

“Training is invariably online and pretty rubbish to be honest,” said Doug, a nurse in Scotland.

Practitioners also showed a lack of awareness of the relevance of sexual orientation to healthcare needs, with 57% saying they did not consider sexual orientation to be relevant to health needs.

Ruth Hunt, chief executive at Stonewall, said: “This report shows there are worrying gaps in knowledge and training relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

“This is creating a healthcare system that treats both its LGBT patients and colleagues unfairly leading to inevitable ongoing health inequalities,” she said.

Stonewall is calling for a highly visible anti-bullying and discrimination campaign across the NHS, as well as training in health and social care organisations and universities.


Readers' comments (6)

  • I think institutionalised heterosexism is probably more accurate and all media outlets are also that. People who do not live a conventional heterosexist life - including single people - are routinely scrutinised or spoken to by people who do live according to the dominant narrative, however much a minority that dominant group might be in real terms. Some phrases such as 'tranny' may also be old-fashioned language. People don't always mean anything, but have a lack of terminology. That people are routinely referred to a gay in the media may not be as neutral or accepting as it proports to be. For those who only know same-sex relationships as equal to opposite-sex ones, it isn't obvious why they have to be named-called when the heterosexual couple does not. Rather than it being inclusive language, it actual points to someone being like an add-on to the norm. Younger people will not role with this, and language will have to be updated again. So why not use neutral language to start with? Why refer to someone's wife as being a woman if you would not for race or heterosexuality. Why ask people their race, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality unless it is necessary - or give them the default option of mentioning it if they deem it necessary?

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  • phobic means fear of, if someone has a fear then they need treatment and help. Thankfully, your survey reveals so few remarks out of hundreds of thousands of staff. This sort of mind control inserts a barrier were there was none...yet the institution itself regularly brings up non issues in ites own paperwork...

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  • I agree with 7:13pm.

    use language like “poof” or “dyke”

    ... and the problem that is what, exactly? Such words (and all the other possibilities) are commonly used within the LGBT population. Language is not the problem... continually drawing official attention to "different" is what perpetuates it as such. As 7:13pm says: it inserts a barrier where there was none.

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  • I agree - how ridiculous to criticise people (especially in health and social care) for using such words - after all, the suicide rate for gay or lesbian teenagers is only 2 or 3 times that of heterosexual teenagers.

    Obviously they are just being too sensitive.

    With regard to gay and lesbian people using such terms : context and intent is what makes the difference. For a gay person to self identify as "queer" can be a positive statement that they are proud to be different. Not entirely the same context when used in a healthcare setting - or playground.

    P.S. I was of course joking when I said I agree with what anonymous 7.13 and 1.10 said !

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  • Chris Stevens - you are missing the subtleties here... attempting to outlaw common words/terms in the language is a hopeless aim since it doesn't change anybody's fundamental views.

    Look at the idiotic (and shifting) confusion over what words are "appropriate" to describe a black person - we've been through a tippy-toe sequence of words and terms, none of which achieved anything except make everyone feel awkward, including the subject him/herself. How many painful years did it take to cycle back to simply saying "black"?

    The intent to hurt, put down, exclude, etc. is the crime, but the words used to do it are not.

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  • Chris Stevens- well said.

    I wonder how many of the people on here defending the use of homophobic terms are heterosexual and / or comfortable living in the gender assigned to them at birth.

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