Change often comes from adversity, and our own personal struggles lead us to help others. Dr Michael Farquhar’s testing teenage experience and his love of symbolic pins combined to bring about an ongoing improvement in empathy for LGBTQ+ staff and patients within the NHS. ‘Ongoing’ is the key word as he explains that there’s still a lot to do…
Right from primary school, Dr Michael Farquhar knew he was gay and didn’t feel he could talk to his family. At 14, he made up an excuse to go and see his family doctor, not because he was ill, but because he wanted to discuss his sexuality. When he told the doctor he thought he was gay, the doctor responded with, ’Oh, I’m sure you’ll grow out of it. And don’t worry – I won’t tell your grandfather when we play golf this evening.’
It put him ‘back into the closet’ feeling isolated and unable to be himself. He didn’t then come out until he was in his mid-thirties.
Out of this consultation, lacking any compassion or understanding, came Michael’s drive to help stop other children have an experience like his own, once he himself became a healthcare professional.
‘I created the NHS rainbow badge, so no child is made to feel the way I was by a healthcare professional.’
Fast forward to working as a consultant in paediatric sleep medicine at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, he knew he didn’t want young people to have to feel secretive or ashamed about their sexuality anymore.
A great lover of pins as a symbol of support, he thought it would be wonderful to have a pin with a rainbow on it and was very surprised to find that it hadn’t already been done. With the help of colleagues, he designed an LGBTQ+ rainbow badge that is now worn by hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses and other NHS workers up and down the UK.
An important part of this is that with the badge comes great responsibility. If a member of staff wants to wear one, they must first sign a pledge promising to be an ally – an empathetic ear about issues of gender and sexuality and a channel for getting support and specialist help.
The badges were launched in 2019 and celebrity doctor, Dr Ranj and TV producer, Simon Harper have got involved to scale up the impact of the launch.
There are many examples of how the badges are changing the face of the NHS workplace and making a difference.
‘…everybody thinks we’ve made lots of improvements,’ Michael explains. ‘But actually, there’s a lot of room for improvement. And sometimes there is a sense that non-LGBT+ people have that view that everything is much better now – which loses sight of the fact that yes, things are generally better. But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a huge amount still to do.’
As TV’s Dr Ranj states, ‘We need more Dr Mikes in the NHS and in the world!’
Now in phase 2, the project has been handed to NHS England and is being run by a consortium of four organisations; Stonewall; the LGBT+ Foundation; Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline and GLADD, the Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors and Dentists – who are working together to improve inclusivity at NHS for both staff and patients.