International Women’s Day is a day for all women. It’s a day where we celebrate that women are diverse, and complex, and interesting, and it’s also a time to shine a light on the experiences that women of all backgrounds, and identities, face each day.
Each year, to coincide with IWD, The National LGBT Partnership hosts LBT+ Women’s Health Week — a week dedicated to giving queer women a platform, and raising awareness of the health inequalities that impact LBT+ women and femmes.
In a patriarchal, hetero- and cis-normative world, to exist as a queer woman is a superpower. But sadly, all too often, that superpower is invisibility — especially in health care.
While women of all identities are less likely to be believed by medical professionals, and to have to advocate for themselves during appointments, this is amplified even further for women who are Black or Brown, disabled, fat, or queer.
Often, to be a LGBTQIA+ woman is to not only be deprioritised due to your gender (I’m sure that many of us have been told that agonising pain is simply a normal part of our period and that we should just get on with it?), but to also have your queerness misunderstood by those you’ve turned to for help.
Accessing healthcare as a queer woman may look like the following:
- Being turned away from your cervical screening, because you’re not having sex with cis men, so you’re (incorrectly) told you’re not at risk.
- Attending a pregnancy-related appointment, and your wife being referred to as your “friend” or “birthing partner”.
- Your doctor not knowing how to perform a prostate exam on a post-op trans woman, leaving you worried that you could have a serious condition left unfound.
- Attending a sexual health check-up and only being given advice for having safe sex with cis men, despite being a polyamorous bisexual woman.
- Spending months worrying about a transvaginal scan, due to dysphoria, only to be misgendered when eventually attending the appointment.
- Being made to take a pregnancy test at the majority of your healthcare appointments, despite never having a sexual experience with someone who produces sperm.
These are just a handful of experiences that have been shared with us over the years of hosting LBT+ Women’s Health Week. Accessing your basic human right of healthcare can feel like wading through treacle — something off-putting enough that many LBT+ women simply stop attending vital appointments.
LBT+ Women’s Health Week is first and foremost for the women who feel ignored, misunderstood and humiliated as a result of their gender and queer identity. It’s a place to be heard, to meet others who have had experiences similar to your own, to come together as a community.
It is too for the healthcare professionals who know they should be doing better. Who desperately want to provide an equal quality of service to those in their care. It’s a space for learning, for being corrected, and for making a vow to do better.
If you’re an LBT+ woman or healthcare professional, we still have some free events this week that you can sign up to: www.consortium.lgbt/nationallgbtpartnership/lbt-womens-health-week/the-national-lgbt-partnership-lbt-womens-health-week-2023-events
You can also read through our previous year’s resources here: www.consortium.lgbt/nationallgbtpartnership/lbt-womens-health-week and keep an eye on our Twitter (@lgbtpartnership) for our new resource, a survey of over 550 women and femme’s experiences, being published in April.
This International Women’s Day, we will be seen.
Laura Clarke (she/they), National LGBT+ Partnership Coordinator