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“We all have it in us to be a hero and help others”

01 May 2020, at 8:50am

Inclusion, diversity and culture are buzzwords that have been widely discussed within the veterinary profession over the last couple of years. Every day I am truly thankful that the majority of the profession is embracing this with open arms.

During my time with the British Veterinary Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Association (BVLGBT) I have met some wonderful people, learnt a tremendous amount and am involved in some fantastic ground-breaking work being done by the BVA and the RCVS amongst others. Most significantly I have listened to some harrowing descriptions of discrimination endured by LGBT members of the profession and these abhorrent episodes are what motivate me to help educate, support and advise members of our profession who may be getting it wrong, or don’t know what to do for the best.

The recently published RCVS survey of the profession indicates that 10 percent of veterinary surgeons identify as non-heterosexual with 8 percent of veterinary nurses identifying the same. The levels of discrimination experienced by LGBT members of our profession make for sobering reading: 27 percent of respondents of
the BVA 2019 Discrimination Survey had personally experienced discrimination in the previous 12 months, twice that reported by heterosexual members. Sadly, the same survey highlighted that only a third of all incidents of discrimination are reported.

So, it is clear that there is an issue, and as a profession we need to work together to eradicate it. We all have a right to work in an environment that is open, trusting, fair and, most importantly, safe. Everybody should be able to bring their full self to work and not be forced to portray a false version of themselves to colleagues, employers and clients. Stonewall (the leading LGBT advocacy charity) identified in their workplace survey of 2017 that 40 percent of bisexual individuals are not “out” to their work colleagues. This is a phenomenal figure and it is quite likely that these individuals feel that being bisexual is unlikely to be taken seriously and that being bisexual leaves them more exposed to workplace “banter”.

It is all too clear when I read some of the discussions on veterinary forums and social media that some of our members don’t seem to realise that to discriminate is to break the law! The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against a person based on one of nine protected characteristics (race, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, sexual orientation, age, disability, gender reassignment, religion and sex). So not only is it morally wrong, it is illegal!

As employers and colleagues, we should be comfortable and eager to call out these discriminatory incidents by offering robust and consistent responses to these unacceptable behaviours. I would certainly prefer to lose a client to such issues rather than a valuable team member through the lack of support and understanding I may have shown them. Many of us wouldn’t hesitate to refuse to see a client that was verbally or physically abusive; the same strong responses are equally applicable to discriminatory behaviours. It is true that a large proportion of the discriminatory incidents experienced by our LGBT colleagues are subtle and no doubt unintentional. Regularly whilst consulting I am asked what my wife does for a living. This doesn’t upset me, but quite rightly there are others where these public assumptions cause upset and if encountered on a daily basis are understandably going to wear an individual down, whilst still trying to work in what we know is an incredibly pressured, emotional and stressful profession.

It is vital that veterinary practices should have in place clear policies regarding discrimination and there should be very visible pathways available for individuals to comfortably and safely report discriminatory behaviours. A significant number of those individuals that didn’t report discrimination did not do so because they didn’t know how to, or more worryingly, were afraid to.

I have personally benefited from support offered by a previous employer during one of the darkest periods of my life. My employer wasn’t able to provide specific support regarding my sexuality but he didn’t need to, he simply cared enough to open up a conversation with me. I was listened to and reassured and it is this simple gesture that saved me. That man is my hero!

We all have it in us to be a hero and help others and make our profession lead the way with inclusion, diversity and tolerance.

Dan Makin, BVMS, CertAVP(SAM), MRSB, MRCVS, qualified from Glasgow Vet School in 2003 and spent several years working in mixed and equine practice both in the UK and in New Zealand. In 2006, Dan returned to the UK and entered into small animal practice. In 2017 he bought his own small animal practice in Poole and is the current President of the British Veterinary Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Association.​

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