As a social worker at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre, Scott Stewart journeys with residents and their families to break down social barriers. This often includes advocating for those who belong to minority groups, including LGBTQ2S+ residents.
“Being a member of minorities myself, as a gay male and a person of Indigenous status, I’ve had to be self-reflective on my own journey and apply that to my healthcare practice,” Scott says. “I’ve had a lot of experience during my career, but before it as well.”
Although Canada has made progress in recognizing and celebrating LGBTQ2S+ individuals, many continuing care residents remember a time when LGBTQ2S+ individuals were criminalized by Canadian law and deemed mentally ill by the health system. As a result, Scott says, many LGBTQ2S+ individuals fear coming out in continuing care settings.
“People were told by their government and communities that who they are is deviant, criminal and unequal,” Scott says. “So when someone is part of a generation that has experienced these inequalities, it’s difficult to come out in continuing care. They’re surrounded by strangers, receiving care that can be very intimate, and they want to fit in.”
Scott says that it’s important healthcare workers earn the trust of LGBTQ2S+ residents in continuing care by acknowledging their vulnerability, particularly if the person has had negative past experiences with the health system.
“We have to help people feel more comfortable and be who they truly are so they can have better healthcare experiences,” Scott says. “Residents are often with us during the last part of their journey, and I hope they can live as genuinely as possible.”
So how can healthcare workers ensure LGBTQ2S+ residents in continuing care feel valued, respected and safe? Scott share some practices that he and his colleagues at the Edmonton General have adopted.
Identify personal biases and prejudices. We all have them, whether they are conscious or unconscious.
“It’s about confronting our own biases and then working towards changing them,” Scott says. “The first step is awareness — we’re all human and part of our journey is to overcome them.”
Adopt inclusive language. This includes using gender-neutral language and asking residents how they wish to be addressed.
“While healthcare professionals often have access to a resident’s birth name and gender, these don’t always align with the identity of the person we’re serving,” Scott reminds us. “We should always ask for their correct pronouns and names, and how they want to be addressed when they receive care.”
Written language should also be gender-neutral, especially when collecting personal information. For example, instead of asking whether someone has a husband or wife, ask if they have a partner or spouse. It’s also preferable to ask if someone is in a relationship instead of asking if they are married.
Be intentional about asking residents for their consent before providing personal care. Healthcare workers are trained to ask for consent before performing any type of care, and it’s important to make sure residents feel empowered to make decisions about their bodies. Some members of the LGBTQ2S+ community may have experienced trauma in their lives, or they may have had gender-affirming surgery.
“For anyone living as a person not part of the majority, when they encounter healthcare there is often a power differential and a sense of being very vulnerable,” Scott says. “As healthcare professionals, we need to understand that they could be part of multiple minority communities and their experience of healthcare will be affected by their journey.”
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Even when we have the best intentions, we are likely to make mistakes in some of our interactions— whether it’s using the incorrect pronoun or making an assumption about someone. Scott says that when this happens, we should embrace the situation as an opportunity to learn.
“The journey is about learning, and you’ll get better at it. It’s about being thoughtful and conscious about how we’re interacting. When you’re open and honest, there is an opportunity to move forward. When someone calls you out, say ‘Thank you for helping me with that, I appreciate it’.”
Be proactive and open to learning more about the LGBTQ2S+ community. This includes understanding history and other factors, like intersectionality, that can shape a person’s lived experiences. Scott recommends attending workshops offered by professional colleges or community organizations, in addition to exploring online resources such as:
- LGBTQ2S+ Resources & Information (Alberta Health Services)
- Pride Centre of Edmonton
- Rainbow Health Ontario
- Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health
- Pflag Canada
- Community-Based Research Centre
- Edmonton Men’s Health Collective
- World Professional Association for Transgender Health
- Trans Wellness Initiative
- Edmonton 2 Spirit Society