Making a case for a “positive space” in healthcare

Jackie and Lola* have been together for 24 years. They were married at Toronto City Hall as soon as the law allowed gay people to formally wed. Decades before, Jackie stood up to prejudice by working to have the first pride parade in Toronto allowed. Lola and Jackie have always advocated for their right to be fully part of society.

Not allowing negative attitudes to dictate the way they live their lives is apparent in their decision to become parents. After years of trying, Jackie became pregnant in 2012 at the age of 52. With a healthcare provider who encouraged and supported their choices, Jackie and Lola welcomed their son later that year.

Now they have a healthy four year old boy who loves his two moms and is their pride and joy. Not everyone will be cool with someone who carried her first child in her early fifties. Some people make judgements based on a bias of what is normal around family development.

But Jackie, Lola and their son need and deserve healthcare providers that accept and support them.

Creating a welcoming space for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) clients is something that needs to happen proactively. Many LGBTQ people have been marginalized by those in our society who believe that there is one kind of normal and that LGBTQ people don’t fit into their world view.

The 2009 Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network’s (WWLHIN) online survey of the LGBTQ population found that only 54.6% indicated their local primary care provider was LGBTQ-friendly; only 29.6% stated that their primary care provider understood LBGTQ health issues and 14.6% reported that they had gone outside of the area to get appropriate primary care.

Some people choose to not disclose their identities and others are not necessarily visible, for example, the single queer mom, the bisexual man and woman who are partnered, the lesbian with a partner who is a trans man. You cannot make assumptions about people’s gender or sexual identity, just by looking at them.
-- Best Start Resource Centre, Welcoming and Celebrating Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity in Families, From Preconception to Preschool .

At Public Health, we are actively working to make our health unit a space that is welcoming and friendly for everyone, including those who identify as LGBTQ. We have gender-neutral washrooms for clients and for staff. Our intake forms allow someone to identify as male, female or other. Soon, all staff will be invited to participate in positive space training.

What makes a “positive space”?

A positive space is one that is open, welcoming and provides equitable access to people of all sexual and gender diversities. Inclusive personnel policies and practices provide the framework to support a positive space.

Our staff will learn about LGBTQ terms and definitions while exploring how assumptions made in service delivery can affect gender-independent children, LGBTQ youth, adults, seniors, racialized and newcomer LGBTQ communities. Being inclusive means we strive to make everyone feel comfortable accessing our services.
Inclusive policies must be welcoming to both staff and clients, and focus on:

  • Eliminating discrimination
  • Promoting and providing full and equal access
  • Eliminating stigmatization
  • Creating environments in which people feel safe “coming out”

You can learn more about what we’re doing in our report LGBTQ Health: Results from Community Consultations (PDF, 34 pages, 706 kb).

While policies are essential to the formation of a positive space, staff understanding and awareness is also a critical component. If you’re looking to establish a more LGBTQ-friendly space, Welcoming and Celebrating Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity in Families (PDF, 51 pages, 1.62 MB) from the Best Start Resource Centre is an excellent guide.

When Jackie and Lola bring their son for a flu shot, they need to be able to enter Public Health on an equal footing with every other family and client lining up for their shot. We provide services that help families from preconception through to child development and positive parenting. The principles of healthy living are for everyone in our community and we help people stay well by consciously celebrating the diversity of the people who rely on us.

*names have been changed to protect privacy

Has your workplace taken steps to be more inclusive? Please share what you’re doing below!