2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 2

Surgeons celebrate diversity at WorldPride

RACS surgeons joined members from 14 other medical colleges to take part in the Mardi Gras Parade during Sydney WorldPride 2023 in February.

The float was created by members of the Pride in Medicine Group, which advocates on behalf of the wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ practitioners and patients.

During the parade, College representatives travelled on or alongside the float wearing sequined scrubs and danced to health-themed songs including Fever and Dr Love. 

The profession’s participation in this high-profile event aimed to send a strong signal that medical colleges recognise and support the LGBTQIA+ community and will proudly advocate for their healthcare needs.

Hobart Colorectal and General Fellow and Pride in Medicine President, Dr Matt Marino conceived the idea of being part of the Mardi Gras Parade and was pleased by the support and enthusiasm of the medical community.

“When I had the idea of having a float in the Mardi Gras, I knew it wouldn’t be easy at all, but I was certainly surprised at just how much support we ended up getting, both financially from all the different colleges, and in terms of genuine interest in what we’re doing. It was really nice to see,” he said.

The Pride in Medicine Group was formed as a WhatsApp group of senior surgeons and obstetrician and gynaecologists, originally known as Pride in Surgery.

Since forming about a year ago, it has grown from a founding group of fewer than 10 surgeons to between 150 and 200 members from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand today.

The group includes representatives from all medical specialties, at all stages in their careers, from within the rainbow community and their allies.

“It started off as a way to sort of share ideas or talk about issues that are facing LGBTQIA+ medical practitioners, and to come up with ways to improve the situation for both patients and doctors,” Dr Marino said. 

“It’s developed quite a lot of momentum and I think it shows that there was a real need for this group.” 

The group presented the idea for the float to RACS, which became the first medical college to support the initiative.

RACS participation in WorldPride 2023 is part of the College’s strategic focus on building a culture of respect and embracing diversity, and on serving all communities equitably to build sustainable surgical services.

RACS first published its Diversity and Inclusion Plan in 2016, which links to the Building Respect initiative.

The plan champions diversity within the College, but many objectives are aimed towards gender and cultural diversity. 

Understanding the value of promoting diversity in other forms, including sexual diversity, RACS considers involvement in WorldPride 2023 to be a step in creating a more inclusive and diverse profession.

Dr Marino said some of the issues facing LGBTQIA+ members of the profession were not always overt.

He points to examples including a reluctance of doctors to come out and show their authentic selves to colleagues for fear of a negative reaction and subsequent professional implications.

This could impact on both their mental health, and their performance.

A lack of diversity and inclusion within the profession can also have a considerable effect on patients, leading to health issues that largely affect the LGBTQIA+ community being neglected.

Fellow Pride in Medicine member, Aotearoa New Zealand academic surgeon Dr Sarah Rennie said the role of the group in addressing inequity in health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ communities was crucial.

“All the research shows that LGBTQIA+ communities have massive health inequities relating to a number of root causes, including societal stigma, discrimination and denial of human rights,” she said. 

“A lot of rainbow people feel quite afraid of accessing medical care, and that means that when they eventually see a doctor, things are way more advanced than they might have been if they felt comfortable accessing medical care.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of accessing healthcare in the 21st century. They should feel safe, and we should have equivalent health outcomes for our minority groups—whether it’s rainbow, whether it’s disabled people or whether it’s Indigenous people.”

Dr Rennie can name several instances throughout her career when she felt belittled by jokes or comments made by her colleagues.
“There is a bit of a culture of locker room banter in the surgical profession and there have been times when I have felt uncomfortable by inappropriate jokes or comments,” she said.

Dr Rennie considers RACS participation in WorldPride to be the start of much-needed change within the medical community.

“Being part of WorldPride speaks to the values that our College—service, respect, integrity, compassion, collaboration.

“But it is really just the beginning.  It’s about trying to get everybody in the room, and sending a signal to colleagues, to Trainees, to medical students that this is a safe space to be in, and to our communities that this is a safe space to access health. 

“It’s the beginning of the conversations that are starting to happen now in terms of how we can advocate for rainbow communities to make sure that we work to reduce those health inequities that exist in our communities.” 

The next steps for the Pride in Medicine group will be to raise awareness of unconscious and conscious bias within the health system, and the use of inappropriate comments or jokes. 

The group aims to develop tools to equip members of the profession to call out this behaviour in a non-confrontational way, creating a safe workplace for LGBTQIA+ doctors and medical students.

They would also like to improve doctors’ familiarity with medications, conditions and issues that are relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community by developing resources for doctors and patients.

Other aims include improving the training of Trainees, and all surgeons, to better cater to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, implementing a mentoring program for rainbow doctors to continue to create safety within the profession, and developing a database of LGBTQIA+ friendly practitioners.

Both Dr Marino and Dr Rennie found being part of the Pride in Medicine float exhilarating and were heartened by the response from the public.

“It was incredible just seeing the joy, the sense of community, the sense of belonging. You’ve got that real sense, being involved in the parade, that it was about being connected to our community and that was really, really important for a lot of people, both within our colleges, among our patients and in our community,” Dr Rennie said.

“The vibe was phenomenal,” Dr Marino agreed.

“Most of us had never been involved in the Mardi Gras parade, and in the hour that we were actually on the float moving through Oxford Street, it was incredible.

“People could see that ours was a medical float, and everybody was just so energetic and thankful and grateful and lovely. It was a really beautiful experience,” he said. 

Follow Pride in Medicine on Instagram (@ prideinmedicine) or visit Pride in Medicine’s website to learn more: bit.ly/3K5hKpV