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Tiffin School is proud to celebrate LGBT+ History Month 2024. This year’s theme is Under The Scope and celebrates LGBT peoples’ contributions to the field of Medicine and Healthcare and the progress made toward ensuring equal treatment for all. Understanding how things used to be and learning about the fight for equality that happened in the past can help to shed a light on inequalities that still exist today and encourage us all to think about our own responsibility in creating a fairer society in the future. By studying some of this history, we hope students gained a new perspective on the barriers still faced by the LGBT+ community today and the work that still needs to be done.

During the assembly students learned about pioneer for women’s rights to study medicine, Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912) and The Edinburgh Seven, as well as the history of healthcare for the LGBT+ Community and barriers to equal treatment that still exist today.


SOPHIA JEX-BLAKE: After being initially denied entry to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine on the grounds that the university could not make accommodations for ‘just one lady,’ she ran an article in The Scotsman newspaper and appealed to other women to join her campaign. Six other women joined her, they succeeded in winning places and became the first women to ever attend a British university–making history as The Edinburgh Seven!

SURGEON’S HALL RIOT: The fight was far from over as the women encountered persistent and significant resistance. Little more than a year later – tension would turn hostile with the Surgeon’s Hall riot on 18 November 1870. A mob of more than 200 people pelted the women with mud and rubbish as they made their way to sit an anatomy exam. While newspaper coverage swayed public opinion in favour of the women, discrimination grew at the university, and they were denied access to wards and blocked from graduating with degrees.

LEGACY: Jex-Blake went on to get her medical degree in Europe and became one of the first female doctors in the UK. The Edinburgh Seven campaigned for nearly a decade for their right as women to attend medical school and practice medicine, garnering international attention and the support of prominent physicians and scientists, including Charles Darwin. After several petitions to medical institutions and government, the Medical Act of 1876 was passed, allowing all medical institutions in the Britain to license qualified applicants as Medical Doctors regardless of their gender.

In 1874 she opened the London School of Medicine for Women and in 1885 established the first hospital completely run by women in Scotland. In 1886 she helped open the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women and it was there she met her life partner Dr. Margaret Todd, one of the first students to enrol in the institute. Together they wrote several crucial texts arguing in favour of women’s suffrage and women’s importance to the medical field, and bravely lived together despite societal conventions in the early 1900s that did not publicly accept homosexuality.

Students learned that homosexuality was classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness until 1973 but was not actually removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) until 1992. Similarly, ‘gender identity disorder’ was only recently reclassified as ‘gender incongruence’ by the World Health Organisation in 2019, and removed it from the list of official mental health conditions.

How a condition or disease is classified in the ICD can make a significant difference to the way health systems and communities comprehend and respond to it, and the previous classifications of homosexuality and gender incongruence served to foster stigma and create potential barriers to care.

Despite the progress made towards LGBT+ equality, many LGBT+ people still face significant barriers to accessing healthcare and high rates of poor mental health. A recent survey conducted by LGBT+ charity Stonewall found that one in seven LGBT+ people have avoided treatment for fear of discrimination, while nearly one in four had witnessed negative comments towards LGBT+ people by healthcare staff.

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To overcome some of these barriers, the NHS Rainbow Badge scheme was created by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London in 2018, in partnership with Evelina London Children’s Hospital. The badge is a special rainbow edition of the NHS logo and is worn by NHS staff who have pledged to reduce inequalities and provide support and signposting to LGBT+ people. Medical Trusts and hospitals across the country have participated in the NHS Rainbow Badge awards scheme earning a Bronze/ Silver/ Gold Award for providing staff training and monitoring, and promoting inclusive policies and support for LGBT+ staff and patients.

Unfortunately, just as we were preparing this Assembly, government funding for the programme was cancelled which is a reminder that progress cannot be taken for granted and it is important to continue to advocate for equal rights for all.