Recognized by the federal government in 1999, Pride Month is celebrated in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots and advocate for equal justice and opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community. But in the world of nursing, caring with pride has been going on every day for decades, with the first formal code of ethics for nurses adopted in 1950.
Nursing is a Diverse, Inclusive Profession
As a nurse, you work in one of the most diverse and inclusive professions available, following a Code of Ethics that includes provisions such as:
The nurse practices compassionately and respects every person's inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes.
The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the patient's rights, health, and safety.
The nurse collaborates with other health professionals and the public to protect human rights, promote health diplomacy, and reduce health disparities.
You provide a safe space where patients can be authentic without fear of judgment. And that's one of the reasons nursing continues to top the annual Gallup poll for being the most trusted profession.
Nurses Who Made History
Nurses have always been committed to improving lives, even if it means bucking the system to do what's right. Consider the nurses who built Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983. It was the first AIDS ward unit in the United States where volunteer staff created care practices based on humanity and holistic well-being during a time of great uncertainty. These exceptional healthcare professionals changed traditional hospital policy and helped patients maintain their dignity when no one else would.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Patients in Nursing
As of February 2022, the percentage of adults who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than heterosexual in the United States is 7.1%, which is double the percentage from 2012, when Gallup first polled Americans as part of the demographic information it collects.
More than half of LGBTQ+ Americans report that they have experienced violence, threats, or harassment because of their sexuality or gender identity. Nearly one in five LGBTQ people have avoided seeking medical care for fear of discrimination.
To help put a stop to the health disparities and discrimination this population often faces, the healthcare industry must consider the unique needs of LGBTQ+ patients in terms of policy, practice, education, and research.
LGBTQ+ patients and their families should feel the healthcare facility they're visiting is accessible, inclusive, and knowledgeable about the care they need and deserve. Who better to champion this cause? Nurses, of course! They represent the largest segment of the healthcare workforce and have the most direct contact with patients.
In this National Nurses United article, registered nurse Guy Vandenberg, who played a part in pioneering Ward 5B, talks about how as patient advocates, nurses have a unique role in resisting institutional discrimination, fighting for social justice, and providing care that recognizes everyone's self-determination, bodily autonomy, and right to health.
Britta Houser, another registered nurse featured in the article, mentions how listening is a critical form of advocacy, and that allowing space for patients to share their whole selves is essential. But despite a nurse's best intentions, they may not always be aware of LGBTQ+ patients' identities. "It's important to always be mindful of the way we [nurses] are talking to people or referring to a family member," she said.
A study published by the Journal of Professional Nursing cited that nursing is affected by sociopolitical shifts in society, although changes to basic nursing education curricula are slow to initiate, resulting in knowledge gaps that may adversely affect patient care.
So, what can you do to understand LGBTQ+ patients better and deliver culturally competent care? You can:
Learn and use the correct LGBTQ+ terminology when caring for patients.
Ask questions that focus on behaviors that impact health instead of sexual orientation.
Help promote a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ patients by wearing pride swag.
Learn about the healthcare discrimination that LGBTQ+ patients often face.
Understand how an LGBTQ+ patient's health and social needs evolve over the lifespan.
You can also check out a series of NIHCM webinars on how to address health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community.
Challenges Face by LGBTQ+ Nurses
LGBTQ+ patients aren't the only ones facing challenges in our nation's healthcare system—so are the LGBTQ+ nurses who care for them.
According to a Minority Nurse article, LGBTQ nurses form one of the largest minorities within the profession, and yet they're hardly recognized as a subgroup. In this article, you can read about the professional struggles of several LGBTQ+ nurses, including nurse Austin Nation, PhD, MSN, PHN, RN.
With over 30 years of nursing experience to his credit, Austin Nation has faced a "triple-whammy" of workplace discrimination. As a gay black male in nursing, he has experienced racism, sexism, and homophobia. He has responded by founding and leading a Men in Nursing Group and spearheading an LGBT Cultural Competency for Healthcare Providers workshop.
While discrimination and inequality still exist for LGBTQ+ nurses, healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom are increasing the presence of LGBTQ+ staff networks to help drive positive change and minimize feelings of isolation experienced by nurses and colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community.
David Van de Velde, a mental health lead nurse in London, said he noticed a real shift in the workplace after he joined an LGBTQ+ staff network. "It's such a huge thing to be able to bring every single bit of myself to work and know that I'm accepted."
Resources for LGBTQ+ Patients and Nurses
For more information, here is a list of patient healthcare resources and nursing organizations dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community.
Sage works to ensure that LGBTQ+ elders and people aging with HIV nationwide receive culturally-competent care.
The Human Rights Campaign works to ensure every member of the LGBTQ+ community has the freedom to live their truth without fear and with equality under the law.
The Gay & Lesbian Medical Association facilitates the development and implementation of specific actions to advance LGBTQ health issues within nursing practice, research, education, and organizational policy.
NALGAP is a membership organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of alcoholism, substance use, and other addictions in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities.
National LGBT Cancer Network works to improve the lives of LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk.
PFLAG is the nation's largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them.
The Fenway Institute serves to optimize health and well-being for sexual and gender minorities (SGM) and those affected by HIV.
While nurses have long advocated for LGBTQ+ patients, there's always more work to be done. That's why taking the time to understand the current and unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community and knowing how to deliver culturally competent care in a complex healthcare system is vital to ending healthcare discrimination among this population.