Though conversations about LGBTQ+ issues are common in news and media, discussions about the problems surrounding the community’s access to healthcare are less common. On Thursday night, “Stories of Illness and Health” tried to change that by hosting a panel that advocated for healthcare at Wolf Performance Hall in the Central London Public Library.
“Stories of Illness and Health” is a collaboration between the London Health Sciences Centre and Western University's Public Humanities at Western and the Narrative Medicine Initiative. Together, the collaborators strive to explore healthcare through storytelling. Their most recent panel examined how storytelling can heighten our understanding of healthcare within the LGBTQ+ community.
Moderated by Shannon Arntfield, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and director of the Narrative Medicine Initiative, the panel invited three members of the queer community to share their struggles with accessing healthcare.
Mel Lucier, an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, was the evening’s first panelist. She discussed the difficulty of having her medical problems misunderstood and diminished by healthcare professionals, namely focusing on her recent gastric-bypass surgery.
Beyond discussing her own struggles accessing compassionate healthcare professionals, Lucier emphasized how difficult it is for any marginalized community to get the care they need — especially transgender youth.
“When a member of any marginalized community is forced to advocate for themselves and fight for a minimal standard of care, many of them go untreated and they suffer in silence,” she told the audience. “In the trans community, and in any other marginalized community, we lose a lot of people to violence, self-hatred or suicide.”
The next panelist, Terry Duncan, discussed the years of ongoing care that followed his HIV diagnosis. As a young, gay man living in London, he was diagnosed at a time when knowledge and treatment regarding HIV were limited, and the stigma surrounding the virus was high.
Duncan highlighted that, throughout his struggle with HIV and its symptoms, the few compassionate and caring doctors he encountered made all the difference.
“I had a social worker I could access when needed, who I really truly think saved my life,” he said. “The support of that program literally kept me safe.”
The final panelist was Jayce Carver, who works to make a women’s shelter in Windsor, Ont. more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Though she currently lives openly as a transwoman and an advocate, getting to this point wasn’t easy. Carver described her long and difficult struggle with being misgendered and unable to access her right to healthcare. Her story moved audience members to tears as she explained her former drug addiction, mental health issues and inability to access detox clinics due to her status as a transwoman.
“I remember being scared to death. I went to detox because I wanted to get clean so bad, and I wanted to go back to my job, and I wanted my house and my husband back. It was the most horrifying five days of my life,” she said. “I just wanted to be treated like any other woman recovering from addiction, and they gave me what they thought was accommodation. Often times, people think accommodation is isolation. It’s not.”
The speakers’ stories were followed by a discussion period that encouraged the audience to ask questions.
Through storytelling, the speakers ultimately taught the audience about the complicated relationship between the LGBTQ+ community and basic healthcare. The goal of the event was to make listeners conscious of the importance of kindness, compassion and understanding in medicine for everyone from all walks of life.