LGBTQ+ History Month 2024: The LGBTQ+ medical professionals who changed healthcare for the better

By Rachel Lamb . 31/01/2024 · 9 Minute read

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February is LGBTQ+ History Month, a time to celebrate that love is a spectrum and acknowledge everyone’s right to exist in a world free from prejudice based on sexuality, gender, or sexual agenda. 

Of course, when we think about Pride and LGBTQ+ Month it’s easy to conjure up images of rainbow flags, celebratory parades, vibrant colours, and freedom from fear of discrimination. But not everyone knows the roots of this month-long celebration and how Pride came to be. 

So, before we get started on the main theme of this article (that’s important LGBTQ+ medical professionals by the way), let’s take a few moments to discuss the history of Pride.

Where did Pride and LGBTQ+ History Month come from?

June 1969. New York City, USA. In the early hours of June 28th, police raided a Greenwich Village gay club, The Stonewall Inn. The club was known as a popular safe space for the city’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community, and was raided without warning. Homosexuality was still illegal across the United States (apart from Illinois), and raids and rough treatment by the police were sadly not uncommon. 

However, in this instance, instead of complying with the police’s unfair treatment, patrons of the club and fellow members of LGBTQ community decided to fight back, resulting in an uprising that would lead to a new age of revolution and resistance. 

To commemorate the 28th June 1969, gay activists launched the first gay pride parade on 28th June 1970, which set off from The Stonewall Inn. Their example was quickly followed by members of the LGBTQ+ community and activists around the country, and later the world. 

Pride is still celebrated each year in June. However, the celebration of LGBTQ+ pride has expanded even further to LGBTQ+ History Month, which has taken place every February since 2005. 

This year’s theme is: Medicine #underthescope.

So, why are we celebrating healthcare professionals this year?

The official website for LGBT+ History Month states:

“The 2024 theme celebrates LGBT+ peoples’ contribution to the field of Medicine and Healthcare both historically and today.

We want to showcase the amazing work of LGBT+ staff across the NHS and in other healthcare settings, in providing healthcare, especially during the pandemic. Whilst still shining a light on the history of the LGBT+ community’s experience of receiving healthcare which has been extremely complicated leaving LGBT+ people still facing health inequalities even today.”

The website also discusses how a rise in hate crime and hate instances has created the need to encourage people to hear real stories from LGBTQ+ professionals and their incredible history. 

But wait, why are you referring to the community as LGBTQ+ but the official website says LGBT+ - are they different?

No. Both acronyms refer to the entire community where no one is excluded. However, the official website states that they have chosen to omit the ‘Q’ from their acronym as many members of the community associate the ‘Q’ (standing for ‘Queer’) with a time when the term was used negatively.

So, now that we’ve covered some important history about the month itself, let’s take a deeper dive into this year’s theme by highlighting some important medical professionals from the LGBTQ+ community.

Dr. Emily Blackwell (1826-1910) 

Dr. Emily Blackwell was among the pioneering women in the United States to receive a medical degree. She co-founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. During the American Civil War, she was instrumental in forming the Women's Central Association of Relief, which was responsible for selecting and training nurses for the war effort.

Post-war, Dr. Blackwell, alongside her sister, established the Women's Medical College in New York City. It was here she met her life partner, Dr. Elizabeth Cushier. Together, they adopted and raised a daughter.

In 1899, Dr. Blackwell closed the college, having seen 364 women graduate with medical degrees. Her hospital eventually merged with another institution, leading to what is known today as the New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, a merger that took place in 1981.

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873-1945)

Dr Sarah Josephine Baker distinguished herself as the first woman to receive a public health doctorate from New York University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. Her groundbreaking work significantly improved the health of immigrant communities in New York City.

In 1908, she became the inaugural director of New York's Bureau of Child Hygiene. Under her decade-long leadership, the city witnessed a sharp decline in infant mortality rates. Notably, Dr. Baker played a pivotal role in the identification of "Typhoid Mary," a cook linked to several typhoid outbreaks in New York households.

Dr. Baker was known for her unconventional attire for the era, often wearing tailored suits and neckties. While the reasons for her choice of clothing – whether for gender presentation or personal style preference – remain unclear, her sartorial decisions were notable for their time. She shared her life with writer Ida Wylie from 1920 until her passing in 1945, living together as life partners.

Sophia Jex Blake (1840-1912)

Sophia Jex Blake, a notable Scottish physician, writer, and suffragette, holds the distinction of being the first woman to practise medicine in Great Britain. She, along with six others collectively known as the Edinburgh Seven, spearheaded a decade-long campaign advocating for women's admission to medical schools. This movement was instrumental in the passage of the Medical Act of 1876, which permitted medical institutions in Britain to licence applicants as Medical Doctors, irrespective of gender.

Throughout her life, Dr. Jex Blake was a staunch advocate for women's rights in the medical profession. She founded medical schools in Edinburgh and London specifically for women, addressing the issue of their exclusion from existing institutions. Dr. Jex Blake remained unmarried and shared her life with her long-term partner, Dr. Margaret Todd, until her death.

Dr. Alan Hart (1890-1962)

Dr. Alan Hart, an American radiologist, was a notable figure in transgender history. Born female, he identified as male from an early age. In 1917, after discussing with his professor, he underwent gender affirmation surgery, making him one of the first trans men in the United States to have a hysterectomy.

Following his transition, Dr. Hart encountered numerous personal and professional obstacles. He was repeatedly outed as transgender in his workplaces, leading to forced resignations and necessitating frequent relocations to places where he was not recognised. This pattern marked much of his career, underscoring the challenges he faced during that era.

Following his initial work as a physician, Dr. Alan Hart shifted his focus to medical research, specialising in tubercular radiology. He was a pioneer in utilising chest X-rays for the early detection of tuberculosis (TB), identifying that X-rays could reveal the infection's onset before any symptoms appeared. This breakthrough enabled early testing for TB, allowing many individuals to receive timely medical intervention before the disease progressed too far. Dr. Hart spent his life with his wife, Edna Ruddick, and passed away at the age of 71 due to heart failure.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and author with British-American roots, earned his medical degree from Oxford University before relocating to the United States for his residency. In New York, he worked at a hospital where he encountered patients who were in a motionless, statue-like condition. He identified them as survivors of encephalitis lethargica, a severe form of sleeping sickness. Sacks administered L-dopa to these patients, observing its effectiveness in rousing them from their catatonic states. He chronicled these clinical experiences and observations in his book "Awakenings," which later inspired a film featuring Robin Williams (and if you haven’t seen it, you definitely should!).

Oliver Sacks was renowned for his books detailing case studies of patients with various mental and neurological disorders. Notable works include "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain." Known for being very private about his personal life, Sacks publicly revealed his sexuality in his 2015 autobiography, having lived celibately for more than three decades. He spent his final years with his partner, Bill Hayes, until passing away at the age of 82 from terminal cancer.

Your World is a proud supporter of LGBTQ+ Pride

Over the years, we’ve found many different ways to celebrate the month, including charity donations and Pride afternoon teas in the office. We always aim to ensure that our offices are inclusive, safe spaces for all staff and candidates. 

If you’re interested in joining our team, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our current in-house vacancies and learn more about our company culture on our dedicated careers site.

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