Published: 15 Jun 2020


Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a major turning point in the fight for LGBT+ Equality1. With the assimilation of LGBT+ culture into mainstream media (looking at you RuPaul!) and a generation of LGBT+ people growing up without knowing the discrimination and homophobia faced by the defiant leaders of the past, is the fight finally over?
Sadly, no.
A 2018 report highlighted that LGBT+ people experienced higher rates of dissatisfaction with their care provided by the National Health Service (NHS) compared to non-LGBT+ patients2. This is something I experienced first-hand when a healthcare professional refuse to take my blood, and I was asked to attend an appointment on a different day when my sexuality would not conflict with religious beliefs of the medical team. This seems to be an all too common story; a Stonewall study found that almost 25% of those surveyed had witnessed negative remarks about LGBT people from healthcare staff, 14% of LGBT people have avoided treatment for fear of discrimination and 13% have experienced unequal treatment from staff because of being LGBT3. Moreover, studies have shown that up to 30% of medical students do not reveal, or actively hide, their sexual identities due to fear of discrimination; with up to two-thirds of gender minorities (transgender or an identity other than male or female) concealing their gender identities4.
This issue extends to the research community; up to 28% of UK scientists have considered leaving their jobs as a result of hostile workplaces or discrimination5. Having leadership and vocal advocates of the LGBT+ community within medicine and science is, therefore, fundamentally important for more frank and honest discussions to ensure the best possible treatment for LGBT+ patients. This means that we need students who are LGBT+ and LGBT+ allies to enter the pipeline, complete their studies and be retained in the sector to help improve LBGT+ knowledge and experience within the sector.
It is fundamentally important that people of all sexual orientations and/or gender identities are represented both within the pharmacology field and in medicine more broadly, in order to appropriately address modern healthcare within the LGBT+ community. Members within the LGBT+ community are more likely to understand issues such as addressing concerns of gay or bisexual men with prostate cancer (in fact, Prostate Cancer UK have developed specific information and resources for this here), pharmacological interventions within the transgender community, or the mental health crisis within the LGBT+ community, with up to 52% of LGBT people experiencing depression3.
So, what can we do now?
There are few openly LGBT+ leaders within my organisation, the field of pharmacology or in medicine more widely. This can, and has, resulted in feelings of isolation and without strong leadership and role models it is difficult to see how LGBT+ identity can be used as a strength throughout your career; I am sure I am far from alone in this.
Worryingly, LGBT students are less likely to stay in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)6 with 56% of LGB+ students citing ‘not fitting in’ as the main reason for considering leaving higher education7. Within the Higher Education sector, we are beginning to see the inclusion of LGBT health education in the curriculum8–10. It is time to move away from just the “old straight, white men, [we] need to study [the] achievements of others”11.
Open and proud LGBT+ educators are essential in ensuring students have positive LGBT+ role models in order to encourage their career and retention within STEM. The sector has ~20% lower LGBT representation than expected12 and without strong role models and inclusion of diverse staff it may be a case of students thinking “I cannot be what I cannot see”. Studies have also demonstrated that instructor approachability and, if necessary, helping students seek out additional resources is a major driver of inclusive practise in higher education13. Moreover, creating an environment where students feel they can be open and honest with their tutors about their identity has shown to improve student confidence in class7.
Recently, the British Pharmacological Society has been making excellent strides to include and celebrate members from all personal and professional background, exemplified by their Five-Year Strategy (2018-2022) objective ‘to remove barriers to participation and success while welcoming equality and celebrating diversity, and being inclusive in all we do’, attending an All Party Parliamentary Group on Equality & Diversity in STEM and the appointment of Lenna Cumberbatch as the Appointed Trustee (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion).
Diverse teams have been shown to be more likely to reach scientific breakthroughs and innovations due to a variety of different and unique perspectives14. Things are moving in the right direction and we must continue to have honest and frank discussions to create a more equal, diverse and inclusive community for all; only then can we have a diverse workforce that attracts and retains talented and diverse teams.
Aidan is the Chair of the Early Career Pharmacologists Advisory Group and the inaugural recipient of the BPS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Prize, sponsored by AstraZeneca. If you have any suggestions for what you would like to see from the Society moving forward, please contact

Initiatives and additional resources: References
  1. The Stonewall uprising: 50 years of LGBT history. Stonewall. Published June 28, 2019. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  2. National LGBT Survey: Summary report. :28.
  3. LGBT in Britain - Health. Stonewall. Published November 7, 2018. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  4. Mansh M, White W, Gee-Tong L, et al. Sexual and Gender Minority Identity Disclosure During Undergraduate Medical Education: “In the Closet” in Medical School. Academic Medicine. 2015;90(5):634-644. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000000657
  5. Exploring the workplace for LGBT+ physical scientists. Royal Society of Chemistry. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  6. Hughes BE. Coming out in STEM: Factors affecting retention of sexual minority STEM students. Science Advances. 2018;4(3):eaao6373. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aao6373
  7. National Union of Students. Education Beyond the Straight and Narrow – LGBT Students’ Experiences in Higher Education.; 2015. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  8. Cooper MB, Chacko M, Christner J. Incorporating LGBT Health in an Undergraduate Medical Education Curriculum Through the Construct of Social Determinants of Health. MedEdPORTAL. 14. doi:10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10781
  9. Salkind J, Gishen F, Drage G, Kavanagh J, Potts HWW. LGBT+ Health Teaching within the Undergraduate Medical Curriculum. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(13). doi:10.3390/ijerph16132305
  10. LGBTQ inclusive curricula – University of Birmingham | Advance HE. Accessed June 7, 2020.
  11. Formby E. How should we ‘care’ for LGBT+ students within higher education? Pastoral Care in Education. 2017;35(3):203-220. doi:10.1080/02643944.2017.1363811
  12. Cech EA, Pham MV. Queer in STEM Organizations: Workplace Disadvantages for LGBT Employees in STEM Related Federal Agencies. Social Sciences. 2017;6(1):12. doi:10.3390/socsci6010012
  13. Lombardi AR, Murray C, Gerdes H. College faculty and inclusive instruction: Self-reported attitudes and actions pertaining to Universal Design. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. 2011;4(4):250-261. doi:10.1037/a0024961
  14. Galinsky AD, Todd AR, Homan AC, et al. Maximizing the Gains and Minimizing the Pains of Diversity: A Policy Perspective. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015;10(6):742-748. doi:10.1177/1745691615598513


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