A group of LGBTQIA+ doctors, medical students and allies called Pride in Medicine brought together 14 specialist medical colleges from across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to march together for World Pride at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade on Saturday, 25 February.
Dr Pramudie Gunaratne, a neuropsychiatrist and public health doctor based in Sydney, marched as an ally and below shares some reflections from a vibrant and thought-provoking celebration.
Pramudie Gunaratne writes:
It was a medical gathering like never before.
Sixty doctors priming bags of rainbow-coloured IV fluids, fitting oxygen masks onto a drag queen mannequin and arranging streamers around a hospital gurney fastened to the back of a truck. College presidents, CEOs, board members, consultants, registrars and medical students all dressed in sequins, glitter and ear-to-ear smiles.
Beyond the beat of the all-medical remix (including iconic hits such as ‘Dr Jones’ and ‘Fever’), the levels of pride and joy were palpable.
In a powerful symbolic stance, the orchestrators of this wonderful chaos were a group of LGBTQIA+ doctors, medical students and allies, aptly named Pride in Medicine.
This group started in 2022 when a small group of senior surgeons and obstetrician-gynaecology specialists came together to shine a light on issues affecting the rainbow community in healthcare. They quickly realised the importance of this issue across the medical field and opened the door to doctors from all specialities. Pride in Medicine want to “create an environment where doctors feel safe to be their authentic selves at work and eliminate the inequities faced by rainbow patients”.
In a highly visible show of support, their first project was to bring together 14 specialist medical colleges from across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to march together for World Pride at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.
Specialist medical colleges often have a reputation for conservatism, but it was an important sign of progress towards greater diversity and inclusion that so many took this opportunity to let down their hair and show solidarity with the rainbow community.
Still, it is important to acknowledge medicine’s chequered history in this space.
This year marks an important milestone – 50 years since homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
While this was a watershed moment for the profession, less than a decade later we saw the vilification of queer communities through the lens of another medical diagnosis as the HIV/AIDs epidemic took hold.
Even today, not all States in Australia have banned long-discredited ‘conversion therapies’, and the health of gender diverse youth is regularly used as a battering ram during political debates.
Against this backdrop, it is understandable that queer communities may be mistrustful of the medical establishment.
Symbolism aside, there is much work to be done. As the acronym suggests, the LGBTQIA+ community is comprised of many diverse groups – each with disparate concerns spanning both mental and physical health domains.
Stigma, discrimination and the ongoing denial of basic human rights in many areas remain undeniable drivers for health inequities. This was apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns where many queer young people faced the double burden of being forced to isolate in homes that were not accepting of their identity while losing connection to important community supports and safe spaces.
Areas of need
Key focus areas for improved care include better training for health professionals, more robust data on LGBTQIA+ populations and enhanced community representation.
Currently, there is little specific training and education in medical schools and specialist programmes regarding LGBTQIA+ health issues and basic competencies on appropriate communication, examination and terminology related to queer patients.
Our national data capturing does not routinely ask about sexual orientation or gender identity, so it is difficult to quantify and understand health issues specific to queer populations.
Finally, representation in medicine and leadership is vital. LGBTQIA+ students and trainees need mentors and role models from their communities.
One of the great strengths of queer culture is a questioning of established societal norms.
Wrapped up in the whirlwind of glitter, sequins and sky-high stilettos is the boldness to push against conventional boundaries.
It encourages a sense of openness and freedom for all of us to explore issues that may be traditionally viewed as taboo, including important conversations regarding sexual and mental health.
With a proud history of hard-won battles in human rights and healthcare, queer communities and institutions also have important contributions to make towards the development of more inclusive and equitable health systems.
The medical profession has come a long way in the half-century since homosexuality was declassified as a medical disorder. Marching for World Pride is an important step, but there are clearly many more strides to take.
• Dr Pramudie Gunaratne is a neuropsychiatrist and public health doctor based in Sydney. She is an ally to Pride in Medicine. On Twitter: @Pramudie.
Croakey acknowledges and thanks photographer Dr George Forgan-Smith, a family doctor based in Melbourne who specialises in gay men’s health, for permission to publish these photographs. On Twitter: @thehealthybear and on Insta: drgeorgefs.
More from Twitter
See this Twitter thread by Paul Wappett, CEO of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on human rights and health
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