As a transgender doctor a safe workplace was a distant dream for me until now | #TeamBartsHealth blogs

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As a transgender doctor a safe workplace was a distant dream for me until now

Hello, my name is Sameera. I’m working as a Senior Clinical Fellow in ITU at Newham Hospital. This is my first stint in the UK as a doctor.

I’m originally from India and previously worked as a clinical practitioner in a teaching hospital. It’s been 15 years since I cocooned myself in one place and decided to go to the UK to further my professional growth. 

I identify as a transgender non binary person. Although throughout the last 10 years of my transition I’ve had to overcome a great deal of struggle to inhabit my gender, my journey has been an amazing one. 

Understanding the health needs of the LGBTIQ+ community

A decade ago, I had no medical support system to help me start my transition. Indian society had no threshold for accepting ‘working professional’ transgender people like me. The legal reforms regarding the transgender persons’ protection of rights are yet to come out of official lawbooks let own be implemented. Being a medical professional I had to go through a balancing act of taking care of my own transition and bringing crucial reforms at my workplace. I developed a gender transition protocol to organise a team of healthcare professionals who helped me get medically transitioned. This helped other transgender people from the state to undergo safe medical transition and the story is still continuing. An organised team and clear vision and mission made this program thrive and became a model example for other governmental organisations. 

The root of cause of the struggle for having a supportive medical system is that we as a medical professionals learned little if anything about the health needs of LGBTIQ community in our medical education. It’s the need of the hour now. As such, I have decided to work on the medical curriculum, building inclusive healthcare systems for trans (and LGB+) people along with a parallel career in intensive care medicine.

Building a supportive and inclusive workplace

Medical and social transition are the most vulnerable periods for a transgender person. A safe workplace for a transitioning transgender person remains an unrealised dream. Social prejudices about transgender people are pervasive. Discrimination, micro and major aggressions to the extent of sexual harassment are often camouflaged. The legal support is focused on discouraging the discrimination and not on preventing it. The best way for me to cope up with all these adversities was planning a step ahead in everything. I created  a circle of supportive human souls at all places; work, home and in society. All I needed was a constant and conscious effort to build and maintain that supportive and inclusive place. 

The word transgender is an umbrella term. The most vibrant and visible transgender community in India is the Hijra community. Hijra includes transgender and intersex people identifying as neither male nor female. While the Hijra community is still met with prejudice now, they were revered as demigods centuries ago. In fact, it was not until the British colonised India in the mid-19th century that the Victorian idea of criminalising homosexual and transgender people was introduced. Many transgender people like me do not associate with the Hijra cult and earned their livelihood as a white collar worker. Unfortunately, the legal system forces non binary people like me to choose binary gender options at all places. This is an important prejudice which society needs to look at now. 

Each person from the LGBTIQ + community will have their own story of struggles. The first and foremost is the struggle of ‘self-acceptance’. The next challenge, and specifically for a transgender person is, ‘coming out’ and starting a transition. These events are just a few of the most important stressors in a trans person's life. At these times they will be vulnerably exposed both physically emotionally and not having the right support can risk scarring their mental health. 

All I would like to say to my colleagues and friends from the LGBTIQ+ community is that we need to anticipate these stressors and seek help or provide support in time. 

Improving the care we provide to the LGBTIQ+ community

I’m glad and fortunate that I am a part of Barts Health NHS Trust which is one of the largest trusts in England with staff hailing from all walks of life. Our trust serves the most diverse population in the country and has positive action policies on diversity and inclusion. A safe workplace was a distant dream for me as a transgender person until now. As an organisation we are doing well at providing an inclusive workplace but nationally there is still work to be done in terms of providing the right healthcare to LGBTIQ+ people in our community. I intend to do all I can to create a dedicated, safe place for medical and surgical transition and specifically to improve our care offering so it is better oriented towards the health needs of transgender people in the community. We’ve come a long way, but there is still work to be done. 

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