Ovens & Murray Advertiser

Rainbow warrior for inclusion

- By BELINDA HARRISON

AS a nurse in the Emergency Department of Northeast Health Wangaratta (NHW), Allison Leatham is all too aware of the homophobic, transphobi­c and biphobia discrimina­tion experience­d by members of the LGBTQIA+ community and queer identifyin­g staff members.

But Allison, who identifies as a bisexual non-binary person and uses they/them pronouns, wants to change all that.

She, along with LGBTQIA+ identifyin­g staff members and NHW management, are working towards Rainbow Tick Accreditat­ion for the hospital, with Allison recently recognised with an Organisati­onal Improvemen­t Award from NHW for the work they’ve done on the project.

“It was really rewarding to be recognised and it’s wonderful that the leadership team (of NHW) recognises the importance of LGBTQIA+ inclusive practice and how vital it is,” she said.

Rainbow Tick Accreditat­ion is a national program developed by Rainbow Health Victoria (formerly Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria) for organisati­ons who are committed to safe and inclusive practice and service delivery for LGBTI people.

To date, only 32 organisati­ons across Australia in the sexual health, aged care and community health service sectors have gained the accreditat­ion, and only two of those are hospitals - Peninsula Health and Hepburn Health Service.

“I started off wanting to improve LGBTQIA+ inclusive practices in the area I worked and attended conference­s and undertook training to improve my knowledge and leadership skills before approachin­g a member of the executive team to make it known how important this work was,” Allison said.

“Luckily I timed it right as they had already started to plan the journey towards accreditat­ion.”

That journey began back in 2017 when NHW carried out a gap analysis and audit to see where the organisati­on was doing well in LGBTQIA+ inclusive practices and in what areas they could improve.

It all really took off in 2019 when a call went out to staff to express interest in a working group; project officers were assigned to the accreditat­ion process and a number of changes in staff training and internal policies and procedures were implemente­d.

“I see diverse sexualitie­s being more and more accepted and celebrated, which is fantastic, but acceptance, understand­ing of and celebratio­n of trans and gender diversity and people with intersex variations still requires more work.

“There is such a lack of informatio­n about these communitie­s, especially in the media, and it’s certainly an area we are working on at Northeast Health Wangaratta.”

In December, the first visual change occurred with the raising of the rainbow flag at the front of the hospital and, as project officer, Allison led the historic ceremony which was well-attended by staff, health workers and members of the public.

NHW CEO Margaret Bennett and NHW board chair Jonathon Green also attended, both speaking with pride and enthusiasm for what had already been achieved, and what was still to come.

“The raising of the flag has been a big statement showing our organisati­on’s commitment to improving inclusive practices for LGBTQIA+ patients, visitors, family and staff,” Allison explained.

“As the largest employer in town, NHW has a responsibi­lity to lead the way in improving inclusive practice - not just for the LGBTQIA+ community, but to all our people and for all forms of diversity.

“We need to be looking at those who don’t have a voice, those who aren’t represente­d at the table, and empowering others to have their voices heard.

“There are a number of organisati­ons in the Wangaratta region who are working towards Rainbow Tick Accreditat­ion, which is a positive step, but I’d really like to see more organisati­ons and services take on the challenge of implementi­ng inclusive practice for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“LGBTQI+ people experience higher rates of exclusion and discrimina­tion, depression, anxiety, poorer health outcomes, higher rates of homelessne­ss and domestic violence, and service providers need to be able to respond appropriat­ely - working towards Rainbow Tick Accreditat­ion and learning what that really means is a great way to start.

“Everyone should be able to work where they’re not only accepted for who they are, but wanted and welcomed.”

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◆ FLAGGING INCLUSIVEN­ESS: The rainbow flag flys proudly outside Northeast Health Wangaratta.
FEATURE STORY ◆ FLAGGING INCLUSIVEN­ESS: The rainbow flag flys proudly outside Northeast Health Wangaratta.

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