LGBTQ+ Issues in Healthcare: How to Address Discrimination Between Patients and Healthcare Professionals

Monica Lin - 06/06/19

A patient refuses care from a male nurse because he suspects that this nurse is LGBTQ+. A nurse makes derogatory remarks towards a gender fluid patient when they are uncomfortable with identifying their sex for some paperwork. A doctor attempts to refuse care to someone simply because she walked in holding hands with her girlfriend.

Situations like these happen quite frequently, and it is important to know how to deal with them in a proper manner that deescalates them in a kind and educational manner. To approach such situations properly requires a knowledge of certain things beforehand and also the courage to speak up and act when you witness discrimination occurring. Below is a short compilation of tips and ideas that you can follow in order to keep the environment at your hospital safer and more comfortable for both the medical professionals and patients that come in and out.

First, you must make sure that you and the others around you know what discrimination and harassment look like. For example, a fellow nurse of yours might believe that it’s okay to not use proper pronouns because they do not register it as discrimination, but in many ways, this is disrespectful and should not be allowed. Understanding and setting proper guidelines for what discrimination looks like, whether that be towards LGBTQ+ patients or patients from minority backgrounds, is important so that people know when to step in and what to report, if necessary. An ignorance regarding this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and it’s also essential that guidelines regarding what harassment and discrimination look like are constrantly revisited and updated as definitions and perceptions change throughout time. This will keep LGBTQ+ patients and nurses as comfortable as possible.   

Second, along the same token of education and awareness, you can urge your institution to host workshops and engage in learning seminars to prevent discriminatory behavior from happening in the first place and also for educating healthcare professionals in the process of handling them. It is helpful to keep nurses and other professionals educated about the LGBTQ+ community, and it is equally important to host workshops with hypothetical situations in which someone is being discriminated against, and nurses must practice how to speak up and step in as needed. Both of these things will help nurses keep an open-mind and also assist them in knowing how to deal with a situation before and while it arises. There is not much room, then, for an excuse to be uncomfortable or timid when a hypothetical situation turns into real-life as they will have had substantial practice with this during their workshops.

Third, it is important that when you see something wrong, you must speak up. Too often, discriminatory acts are not addressed because of people’s fear of calling them out when they happen. Speaking up is at least one thing that you can do when you see discriminatino unfold; it can deescalate the situation and allow the person who behaved in a negative manner understand why what they did was not morally just. Identifying the problem is also the first step to doing more because it takes recognition to alleviate any issue that arises and engage in a course of action following.

And lastly, in the same vein as speaking up, you must also know when it is time to step in and take action if speaking up and voicing your disapproval is not enough. If someone who is discriminatory continues being so, even after you have talked to them about it, then you must do more, whether that taking a patient or nurse to a different, safer area, calling for more training and action from your boss, or reporting them to higher authorities, such as the Office for Civil Rights.

Though getting yourself involved situations in which discriminatory and prejudicial behavior occurs can be incredibly uncomfortable, they have dire effects on the person who is being discriminated against. As a nurse, you are a healthcare provider, and it is important that you provide other kinds of care, such as personal care, as well. There are ways to do this without getting yourself or others hurt, so try to learn, speak up, and step in as much as you can in order to make sure that the world you see continues to be as open, safe, and good as it can be.