Nurses have interfaced with the LGBTQIA community for as long as nursing has existed.
The nuanced language surrounding the LGBTQIA community continues to change in the 21st Century, and nurses can be at the forefront of treating LGBTQIA patients with the highest level of sensitivity and respect.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes and Trends (2013), Australia is one of the top countries worldwide in terms of the acceptance of gay rights.
In light of this, here are four key actions towards being an even stronger nurse advocate for your LGBTQIA patients.
1. Never Assume
When a female patient approaches the nursing station and asks if her spouse will be able to accompany her into pre-op, do not automatically assume her spouse is male.
If a transgender man (a woman transitioning to male) is admitted to your unit, do not assume what pronoun they like to be addressed with. Instead, you can simply ask, “What pronoun do you prefer we use when referring to you?… How do you like to be addressed?”
This removes assumption from the equation and gives the patient the power to educate you.
For any trans patient, do not assume they have had sex reassignment surgery. Trans men and trans women vary widely on the transition spectrum.
It takes sensitivity and a healthy nursing curiosity to navigate the needs of these patients. If you don’t make assumptions about what body parts a patient does or doesn’t have, the less room there is for embarrassment, awkwardness, and a negative healthcare experience for the patient.
2. Be Curious and Respect Boundaries
Curiosity is natural, but be certain not to use a patient interaction to satisfy your own curiosity.
Questions like, “Do you still have your original genitals?” or “Do you date women or men?” may or may not be appropriate in all situations. Ask questions that pertain to providing the care the patient seeks.
If you’re uncertain how to verbalise something important, ask polite questions. It’s also acceptable to plead ignorance and ask the patient to educate you.
For example, you can say, “I’m new to working with the transgender community. Can you help me to understand your needs, the pronouns you use, and how I can make this visit as comfortable for you as possible?”
If you work in a clinical setting that tests for and treats sexually transmitted infections (STIs), more invasive questions are generally expected by patients – however, tactfulness is still paramount.
3. Be Kind
No matter how tolerant your particular facility, city, or country may be when it comes to LGBTQIA citizens, understand that discrimination and poor treatment happen everywhere.
As a healthcare provider, your job is to provide the highest level of care and an optimal outcome. In order to do that, you need to treat patients with the utmost kindness and humility, especially those who have a history of being oppressed.
If an LGBTQIA patient has experienced poor treatment in the past, your ability to provide a positive experience is powerful.
4. Be an Ally
You no doubt have some colleagues who are more attuned to changes in culture and society than others.
Those who negatively judge certain segments of the population may allow their beliefs or values to impact how they treat certain patients.
If you notice a lack of knowledge or sensitivity in your colleagues that may negatively impact patient care, you can intervene by informally educating them.
You can request that your workplace provide sensitivity training and other pertinent information, and you can become involved in efforts to create updated policies and procedures for the LGBTQIA patient community.
A Book Still Being Written
The stories of our communities, cities, or countries are still being written. Likewise, the evolution of the LGBTQIA members of our societies is also still unfolding.
Nurses are on the forefront of patient care, and we can choose to be fierce advocates for LGBTQIA patients no matter what they need or who they are.
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- Pew Research Center 2013, The Global Divide on Homosexuality: Greater Acceptance in More Secular and Affluent Countries, viewed 25 May 2018, http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/06/04/the-global-divide-on-homosexuality/
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram---as well as at www.nursekeith.com and Digital Doorway.