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Interview
Championing the Pride of the profession

Abstract

The British Veterinary LGBT+ group was founded in 2015 with three aims: to build a community of LGBT+ members of the professions, support them and campaign for their rights. Here, Georgina Mills talks to its new president Tom Doyle

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Tell us a bit about yourself

I came over from Northern Ireland to study at Cambridge and graduated in 2001. I work in small animal general practice and have a strong interest in ophthalmology. I’m a partner at Culverden Vets based in the Sussex countryside. I (mostly!) really enjoy the challenges of clinical work and of managing a practice.

And what can you tell us about the group?

After being founded in 2015, 100 vets and vet nurses marched from the BVA’s headquarters to join the London Pride parade in June 2016, the first time our professions were represented.

The British Veterinary LGBT+ group (or BVLGBT+ for short) now has over 700 members from all over the UK and Ireland and has student groups in each of the vet schools.

We attend Pride events across the UK every year and have an annual members’ day with wellbeing sessions and panel discussions. We support student activities and award travel grants so that students can attend Pride and our other events, and we also give talks at vet congresses and universities. We sit on the BVA Diversity and Inclusion Group and have affiliate (non-voting) membership of BVA council.

Why did you want to be president of the BVLGBT+ group?

I remember meeting Mat Hennessey, the group’s founder, in 2016 to see whether I could help with his new group. At the time, I liked the idea of being useful and didn’t expect that BVLGBT+ would come to mean so much to me.

It’s impossible not to learn something from the people who come to our events.

Vet school and practice taught me how to be a good vet, but BVLGBT+ showed me how to be a gay vet

Vet school and practice taught me how to be a good vet, but BVLGBT+ showed me how to be a gay vet, not hiding who I was or trying to conform to an old-fashioned idea of what a vet should be like.

Marching in Pride taught me how to be happy in my own skin

Marching at Pride with our colleagues and seeing the reaction of other marchers and the crowds changed how I thought about myself and being gay. It taught me how to be happy in my own skin.

It was an incredible experience. I’ll never forget the love and support from the crowd and the feeling of community in our group, most of whom had never met one another.

Why do we need a group like BVLGBT+?

There are different challenges for LGBT+ people. One concerns the need to understand and come to terms with who they are in a world and, often, a workplace where being straight and living one particular type of life is the norm. BVLGBT+ provides a network of supportive people who have shown they can be happy and successful while being honest about who they are.

A second challenge for our members is discrimination. Most vets and nurses are accepting of LGBT+ colleagues and the leadership of our professions has been very supportive. Sadly, though, it is still common to hear about students being turned away or bullied on extramural studies because of their gender identity or sexuality, or hearing about bullying at work by colleagues or clients and of some practice leaders not being supportive.

Our transgender colleagues are having a particularly difficult time now. They are at the front line of a struggle that started with the Stonewall riots in 1969: to be allowed to live your life in peace and be accepted for who you are. I’ve been struck by the misinformation and fear being spread by politicians and other national figures. The everyday experience of being transgender at work, such as name-calling, the exclusion, and the lack of compassion or understanding shown by some of our colleagues is shameful.

The BVLGBT+ group at London Pride in 2019

What do you hope to achieve in your presidential year?

We have a great committee this year, with a lot of experience and diversity. I’m excited about what we can achieve.

I want us to reach more of our members, in particular LGBT+ nurses. We’ve set up a working party led by registered vet nurses Sam Morgan and Vicki Nielson.

We’re producing an educational information pack and presentations for practices on supporting LGBT+ colleagues. We hope these will eventually be part of a scheme whereby practices agree to a set of principles supportive of LGBT+ colleagues.

Virtual Pride 2020 – 28 June

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, the BVLGBT+ group will host a virtual pride event on 28 June.

The event will include an introduction from BVLGBT+ president Tom Doyle, Ted talks, and a presentation from the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society.

A transgender discussion panel will take place in the afternoon, with an open format discussion around transgender issues.

Into the evening, there will be a live performance by Cardiff drag queen Jolene Dover, a sangria-making masterclass and a social catch up.

  The event will be hosted on Zoom with joining details:

  • Meeting ID – 840 8543 4905

  • Password – pride2020

We’ll continue to campaign, with a focus on transgender rights. We also want to work more closely with our allies at the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society.

Finally, we’re working on events for after the lockdown, including a gathering in the autumn, next year’s members’ day and, most excitingly, the return of Pride. The committee this year has been given a longer term in office, so we’ve got lots of time to plan a spectacular return!

Pride is cancelled this year due to Covid-19 – is the group doing anything to mark it?

Pride is when we remember the people now and in the past who could not be themselves because of persecution or ignorance. It’s a serious time as well as a celebration.

This year many of us have been thinking about the connection between the lives of black people and LGBT+ people, personified by Marsha Johnson, a black drag queen who played a pivotal role at the Stonewall riot – her life is certainly worth reading about.

This year we’ll celebrate Pride with an online event on 28th June (see box above).

What are your hopes for the future?

We would like every vet and vet nurse to be able to open about who they are and to feel supported at work.

We have a great profession and should be very proud of how we’ve continued to look after our patients during the Covid-19 crisis. I hope we’ll recover quickly and take lessons from it, particularly in terms of looking after our mental health. Caring for our LGBT+ colleagues is part of that.

For our members, most of the problems they face can be solved by people learning more about what it is to be LGBT+ and with a good dose of compassion – those of us in practice have this every day for our patients and clients, but sometimes lack it for ourselves and our colleagues.

• The BVLGBT+ group is open to LGBT+ vet nurses, vets and those in the paraprofessions. It also welcomes supporters and allies who are not LGBT+. You can get involved by joining its Facebook group or contacting us on bvlgbt@gmail.com

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