Sir, I have been asked to consider wearing a rainbow lanyard at work ´to send a clear message of support to the LGBT+ community'.1
My gut reaction was to agree, to help increase visibility for a community I support. I firmly believe in equalities in health and so on first glance this appears like a very worthy idea, especially when considering that more than 20% of LGBT+ people feel uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with NHS staff.2
There was, however, an underlying discomfort in me about the request that I feel warrants discussion. I became concerned about the potential distress to other patient groups caused by such a personal display of support for the LGBT+ community, with an item worn in the clinical setting.
When I referred to the GDC Standards3 I found that Standard 1.6.4 states: 'You must not express your personal beliefs (including political, religious or moral beliefs) to patients in any way that could cause them distress.'
The dominant Christian churches in the UK are clear on their stance towards homosexuality. The Church of England - the state religion of England - maintains that homosexuality is 'incompatible with Scripture',6 and in a 2017 interview the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby was unable to answer whether gay sex is sinful.7
The Roman Catholic Church asserts that homosexuality is a 'strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder'.8
It should come as little surprise then to find that 25% of Christians disagree with same-sex marriage,9 and that 12% of the population would be uncomfortable knowing that their GP is lesbian, gay or bisexual.10
It would be rightly unacceptable for fervently religious clinicians to wear a lanyard in a clinical environment that demonstrates their belief that gay sex is a sin, or that demonstrates their disapproval of same-sex marriage.
However, in deeming that unacceptable, I feel compelled to challenge the new social norm of demonstrating the opposing view with a lanyard in a clinical setting.
This makes it clear to me that what is important is less about the worthy reasons why I might be sporting a rainbow lanyard, and more about how that item might be interpreted by certain patient groups, and in particular whether it could cause any distress.
I want to ensure LGBT+ patients feel comfortable in the clinical setting just as much as those who might be opposed to same-sex relationships on religious grounds. Both groups have a right to be treated in a non-judgemental and non-prejudiced space.
I conclude then that LGBT+ patients can, and should, be helped to feel more comfortable with posters or leaflets in a waiting area, but a dentist's surgery should remain an apolitical space that is solely focused on patients' oral health concerns.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Equalities in Health. 2019. Available at http://www.equalitiesinhealth.org/rainbow.html (accessed April 2019).
Stonewall. Your Services Your Say. 2014. Available at https://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources/your-services-your-say-consultation-report-2014 (accessed April 2019).
General Dental Council. Standards. Available at https://standards.gdc-uk.org/pages/principle1/principle1.aspx (accessed April 2019).
Office for National Statistics. Sexual identity, UK: 2016. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/sexuality/bulletins/sexualidentityuk/2016 (accessed April 2019).
Office for National Statistics. Religion in England and Wales 2011. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/religion/articles/religioninenglandandwales2011/2012-12-11 (accessed April 2019).
Anglican Communion. Section 1:10 - Human Sexuality. 2019. Available at https://www.anglicancommunion.org/resources/document-library/lambeth-conference/1998/section-i-called-to-full-humanity/section-i10-human-sexuality (accessed April 2019).
Sherwood H. Justin Welby unable to give 'straight answer' on whether gay sex is sinful. The Guardian, 2017. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/oct/02/justin-welby-unable-to-give-straight-answer-on-whether-gay-sex-is-sinful (accessed April 2019).
The Vatican. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 2019. Available at www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html (accessed April 2019).
Clements B. Attitudes towards gay rights. British Religion in Numbers. 2017. Available at http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/attitudes-towards-gay-rights/ (accessed April 2019).
Stonewall. Living Together. 2012. Available at https://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources/living-together-2012 (accessed April 2019).