Stef is valued and heard
Stef Extence (pronouns they/them), a Healthcare Support Worker in our Sexual Health team, and one of the new co-chairs of our LGBTQ+ Staff Network, shares their thoughts on LGBTQ+ History Month and reflects on what it means to them personally and how they have been embraced by Solent.
As a kid, Stef wanted to be a vet but as they got older, they realised how much they loved working with people and this love led Stef to a career in healthcare. Stef says: “I'm passionate about my job because sexual health is an integral part of our health that is often stigmatised and treated as taboo. I think sexual healthcare should be accessible to all and should be talked about in a non-judgmental way. I love helping patients feel more comfortable accessing our services.”
For so much of Stef’s life, they felt isolated and hidden, like they couldn’t be themselves. Stef says: “This isn’t something that anyone should feel. Queer people should be able to navigate life without extra barriers put in place simply because they are queer. We should be able to experience joy without fear of being treated differently simply because of our sexuality and/or gender.”
Stef, who is openly a trans non-binary person, acknowledges that there is still a belief that queer people are ‘new’ or being queer is a new ‘fad’ and LGBTQ+ History Month is important in reminding us that queer people have always been here. They add: “Queer people have always been a part of our lives as our colleagues, friends, family members and as members of our communities. LGBTQ+ people feel more comfortable being their authentic selves because of those who came before us, and it’s fantastic to be able to honour that.
Layers of discrimination need to be addressed
As a society we have come a long way in addressing stigma and challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community but there is more work to be done, especially in understanding and supporting queer people that are also people of colour and/or disabled as these voices are often not heard or listened to. Stef says: “It’s important to understand that for many people in the LGBTQ+ community, being queer isn’t the only part of their identity that can lead to discrimination.
“Trans people are facing media attacks that disperse negative messages to the public and this is affecting their quality of life and mental health. Trans people deserve safety, dignity, and access to healthcare. It has been incredible to see the queer community come together to fight for Trans people and protesting across the country. As a society, we need to continue to push for liberation for all people that are LGBTQ+.”
At Solent, we have six networks to support staff, one of them is the LGBTQ+ Staff Network, which Stef co-chairs. This network provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies to share and connect and drive positive change. Stef adds: “We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s important that our workplace feels like somewhere we can not only be ourselves, but also push for change to make it a space that everyone feels heard and respected. Our network needs voices to make this happen. We need to hear about the experiences of a diverse group of people to enact change that benefits all of us. We want it to be a space where we can speak about difficulties we are facing, about the joy we have experienced, and about what changes we would like to see. This network is special because of the people in it.”
Reflecting on their experience at work, Stef finds Solent as a Trust and their colleagues incredibly supportive and non-judgmental. “I could never have imagined being out as a trans non-binary person in previous employments, but here I have felt so comfortable doing so. My colleagues changed the staff toilets to gender neutral ones, they supported me when I was off work for six weeks recovering from top surgery, they are curious and keen to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community so that they can be better allies, and they have made my life at work so much easier than I ever imagined it could be. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank them enough! Shoutout to the sexual health team at the RSH, you’re the best.
“There is always more we can do in supporting LGBTQ+ colleagues, but Solent is keen to make these changes and is supportive of the community and our staff network.”