Working together, improving lives

June 2023

Pride Month: Pioneering LGBTQIA+ Figures in Healthcare

June marks the celebration of Pride Month, a significant time of the year for LGBTQIA+ identifying individuals as they come together from across the world, commemorating, uplifting and recognising people from within the community, past present and future. Pride is the culmination of hundreds of years of campaigning for equality and civil rights with movements dating as far back as George Cecil Ives in 1897 and more recently the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Culturally, pride month is significant to the community as it provides an opportunity for education and awareness and in today’s blog we’re hoping to enlighten you on three individuals in history who helped campaign for LGBTQIA+ health rights, from gender equality to mental health classifications, pioneering conversations around equality, safety and wellbeing for all.

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Dr. Magnus Hirschfield - Equality

Dr Magnus Hirschfield was a German doctor and sexologist. He is best known as a pioneer for LGBTQIA+ rights, through recognising and demanding legal rights for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation and considered one of the first examples of activism for equality through science.

Hirschfield felt compelled to explore themes of sexuality and topics regarding LGBTQIA+ welfare by documenting the effects of trauma, stigmatisation and abuse these individuals were subject to. During his practice, Hirschfield was frequented by patients who had attempted or committed suicide as a result of their sexuality and the treatment they had endured from others in society.

In 1897, Hirschfield co-founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which we now understand to be one of the first organisations known to promote gay and transgender equality. It was Hirschfield’s belief that exploring sexuality and homosexuality through science would lead to less stigmatisation in mainstream society, and as a result ensure the wellbeing, safety and normalisation of LGBTQIA+ people, he is quoted as saying ‘love is as varied as people are’. His committee worked to decriminalise relationships between gay men also, which gained notoriety, including a signature from Albert Einstein, no less.

Hirschfield believed that the rights of gay individuals shared similarities with female rights too, advocating for contraception and access to abortions. He also insisted there should be more classifications other than ‘male’ and ‘female’ and is the first known doctor and sexologist to determine gender-nonconformity in humans. He also provided medical treatment for transgender people and provided them with employment and refuge.

Unfortunately, at the time of Hirschfield’s pioneering exploration into human sexuality, and as a result of identifying as a Jewish gay man, he was victim to German nationalists who in 1920 left him severely beaten and injured. They also raided the institute for Sexual Science, that which Hirschfield founded, damaging the property beyond repair and forcing it to close for fear of further conflict.

Hirschield fled Germany for France and passed away in 1935. His scientific understanding into gender identity and equality is considered well ahead of its time and is one such example of a pioneering figure for LGBTQIA+ people in the field of healthcare.

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Dr Alan Hart - Transgender Identities

Dr Alan Hart, born in 1890 and hailing from Oregon, USA, is considered one of the first individuals to have undergone female-to-male gender reassignment surgery in history, with the removal of their womb through a hysterectomy procedure.

Growing up, and pre-transition, Hart was frequently referred to as a ‘masculine child’. At the time, he identified himself more closely to a boy, rather than a girl and as a result received condemnation from his peers around him.

His alienation from others, led him to believe his attraction to other females was considered abnormal and after graduating from the University of Oregon Medical School in 1912, Hart seeked professional, medical assistance in the form of therapy and psychiatric help. The treatment Hart was subjected to is now considered unprofessional with methods including hypnosis and examinations of the body.

Hart was also subject to a case study and in 1917, he requested a full hysterectomy be performed on him. The reason for this was because he believed this would allow him to live a life that he believed was more aligned with the masculine tendencies felt throughout his life. Hart is also cited as saying his tendencies were ‘abnormal inversions’ and as a result, should be sterilised to avoid procreation. Following the successful procedure, Hart cut his hair short and wore male-assigned clothing.

Following his transition, Hart lived a life dedicated to education and science, specifically through tuberculosis treatment. Though during his time, he also published four novels, whose writing was considered highly progressive for its time, with themes including medicine and sexuality as inspired from his own experiences.

Hart married in 1925 and passed away in 1962. He is still considered one of the first known examples of someone to undergo a successful female-male gender reassignment surgery and the scientific exploration into his life has helped to continue inspiring medical science, procedures on physical appearance and equal rights for transgender identifying individuals.

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Dr Pauli Murray - Civil Rights and Social Justice

Dr Pauli Murray was an African-American woman, lawyer, writer and civil rights activist who is considered an inspiring advocate for justice and equality. Her work helped to lay the groundwork for the legal recognition of gender discrimination and created a pathway for LGBTQIA+ rights in healthcare and beyond.

As an openly lesbian women, Murray faced multiple forms of discrimination, in addition to racism, throughout her career which led her to explore intersectionality in society and how discrimination of all minorities is interrelated. In her groundbreaking book “Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family”, Murray explored her own family’s complex racial heritage, exploring experiences of African-American women and advocating for more inclusive feminism that acknowledged the struggles faced by women of colour.

With faith playing a big role in her upbringing and daily life, it was in 1977 that Murray became an ordained priest which broke yet another barrier, providing inspiration and conversation that other minorities, including those from the LGBTQIA+ community could identify in such a way and continue to practise their faith, without persecution. It was during this period of her life, where Murray also explored equality for marginalised communities, striving for equal representation in religious institutions and advocating for social justice, addressing such issues as sexism, homophobia, racism and economic inequality. Throughout her career, she went on to explore these topics in detail, with considerations into the health and wellbeing of minorities, highlighting, once again, the importance of equality on healthcare settings.

Dr Pauli Murray’s impact on civil rights and social justice cannot be overstated. Her legal work, writings and activism laid the foundation for future generations of activists and scholars and serves as a testament to the power of perseverance and resilience. Her ideas and advocacy for intersectionality paved the way for a more inclusive feminist movement, particularly from those who identify as lesbian or queer. Her dedication to justice and highlighting the health inequality of LGBTQIA+ people continues to inspire individuals and organisations striving for equality and fairness.

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We hope you've enjoyed learning more about just some of the incredible and inspiring figures in healthcare who were a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, paving the way for more inclusion, equality and fairness for these individuals. As Pride month continues, we encourage you to continue learning more about the rich and diverse history and culture of the LGBTQIA+ community.