Dental therapist Leon Bassi talks us through the importance of supporting the trans community and why this will make dentistry a better profession.
Why did BSDHT make a stand on the trans community?
It was prompted by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests but even prior to that we were discussing diversity and inclusion in some fashion. The BLM protests brought it to the forefront of the agenda.
We’ve now formed the advisory group on diversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB). Part of that is to make sure we’ve got our finger on the pulse and to make sure we’re an inclusive rather than an exclusive society. We have such a diverse membership within the British society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy, so we knew this would benefit all of us.
We recently spoke out in support of the trans community; I think that community in particular is such a vulnerable one, especially with all the discussions around banning conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people and the issues surrounding teenagers who are wanting to transition.
Make people heard
It’s such a unique issue but we know some people are often scared to talk about it or they may not be in a position where they can talk about it. I think we just want to make sure everybody has a level of audibility. That they’re not just being heard, but we’re also actively listening to them.
We also want to absorb what’s being spoken about so that’s where the diversity, inclusion and belonging group comes in. It’s about making these people who are often not heard, heard.
We have a platform where it might not necessarily be a direct issue with all people. But it will affect all members of the workforce and will affect how we receive patients. It’s very difficult for people who are at different stages of transitioning to access oral healthcare, for example.
Even just a small post on Twitter or on Instagram can give all health care professionals a little window of knowledge when it comes to treating those on this journey.
Charities also do a good job of this – Stonewall have got a campaign to make sure you know about banning conversion therapy. Another charity, AKT, do a lot with LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, which in turn inevitably affects those who identify as trans.
Have there been some difficult conversations to navigate?
I don’t think we’ve had any difficult conversations. The DIB advisory group has been well received. We’ve had no negative narrative given to us from non-members on our posts or tweets.
I think sometimes it’s making sure these things aren’t seen as novelty. For example, the rainbow lanyard is quite key for somebody who is LGBTQ+. But we’ve got to make sure these things don’t turn into novelties – that those wearing it really understand why we’re wearing it and why somebody from the trans community might identify with it and feel they can be more open about their health.
I think health issues, social issues, and just issues surrounding the trans community are so unique so it’s about making sure things are there to support people from LGBTQ+ communities.
We want people to know we are not ticking a box and we’re not following a trend, but this is a meaningful conversation and we want to make sure our audibility is authentic and genuine.
In regards to the trans community, myself and other members of the group have had these discussions. We’re looking at these issues over the long term, not just the short term. We want to promote a culture that everyone is invested in.
How many people actually know a trans person? We know that person does not just wake up one day and think ‘I want to transition’ as such – it can be a harrowing journey and we have to acknowledge that.
When it comes to gay pride – for example, in London – there’s lots of discussions about how it is too commercial. Do people actually know where it originated from? Are they familiar with the Stonewall riots?
According to the most recent GDC statistics, only 1% of dentists identify as a gay man or bisexual, with none identifying as a gay woman. For DCPs, the figure is 1%. What are your thoughts on this?
In terms of these statistics, I don’t think it is a true representation of the LGBTQ+ community within dentistry. It begs the question are we asking the right questions?
I think it starts at dental school and the university system itself. Is there enough representation? We can’t teach students everything but are they taught enough about it? Is there enough research into LGBTQ+ people accessing oral health services?
The narrative around it is so polarised with trans people. But approaches need to be evidence-based and factual. For example, when you consider teenagers transitioning, look at the evidence – it doesn’t match some of the narratives thrown around. I think as healthcare professionals especially, we’ve got to look at the evidence and not the discussion on social media.
We should seek advice from key stake holders, such as charities and foundations, who are looking at the evidence and help gain appropriate patronage so those in government can be accessed and are aware of the issues.
This will enable long term support which can be put into place to support the LGBTQ+ community. What we need to do is make sure our discussions are evidence-based on the topic rather than personal opinions. That’s how we should support people who are transitioning. A language that is inclusive, not exclusive, is the way forward.
Is there anything practical that practices can do?
With the DIB advisory group, it’s all quite new. We’ve recently carried out a survey of members. We plan to publish the results in the Dental Health, the Journal of BSDHT.
However, there are more practical efforts such as the use of pronouns, for example. I teach at a university and I think pronouns are a good way of signalling to other people that you’re comfortable to discuss those things.
I think some people see pronouns as, ‘there they go again’ and see it as a tick box exercise. If they are used authentically, I think pronouns can really help people and create a discussion. I’m very pro people using their pronouns and it’s on our radar for the DIB advisory group.
It’s these small, genuine actions – which might look like a fashionable accessory to an email signature – but to somebody thinking about transitioning, for example, it signals that this person might have an understanding or be open to a discussion.
Distance to go
I’m part of an LGBTQ+ group at university. It’s a great way to make sure people, executive committees, and those in positions of influence are fully aware of the issues faced by LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.
For some reason people think it’s now always accepted but in certain segments of society we’re still not having acknowledgement.
If you look at the recent government decision not to ban all gay conversion therapies, this signals that we’ve still got so much distance to go.
I’m only 40 but I was at school when Section 28 was still part of the education system. I was educated in a system which did not acknowledge my existence in terms of what they classed as ‘normal’.
The charity Mermaids write on their website that they help gender diverse kids and families. It’s simply a level of diversity – it just means, ‘I’m just on a different level of the spectrum’. We’re all on a spectrum – I’m just sitting at this point and you’re sitting at another point.
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