Kate Ward, Clinical Team Manager for the South Intensive Community Service, explains what inspired the Rainbow Alliance.
I identify as queer but to tell the truth I’ve never been a fan of applying a label to myself. In the past, when describing my sexuality, I’ve always expressed that when I’m attracted to someone their gender isn’t an issue for me. It’s the long-term relationships I’ve had with men that lead people to assume I’m a straight woman. That can make me uncomfortable because I feel like it strips away part of what makes me, me! So, after learning more about the queer theory in recent years and embracing sexuality on a spectrum (rather than the neat little boxes society seems to favour) I feel that saying I’m queer embodies my sexuality and who I am.
I started to think about the links between mental health and those in the LGBT+ community after some close friends of mine experienced the loss of one of their friends. He was a gay man who had committed suicide. Around the same time, I attended a fundraising event in Leeds held in memory of another young gay man who had also taken his life. The event was organised to raise money for support services in the city. Various third sector mental health services and Leeds City Council stood side-by-side at the event and demonstrated a commitment to supporting the LGBT+ community. From that night I began to think about my role and the quality of the services my organisation was delivering to this community. I felt like I needed to do something.
During this time, I was studying for a master’s degree in mental health practice. As part of the course I chose to explore the relationship between mental health, sexuality and gender. My research truly shocked me. I realised that sexuality and gender identity in mental health can be a significant risk factor for some people. I learnt more about the likelihood of depression, anxiety, substance misuse and self-harm in the Trans and non-binary community, which is worryingly high! The majority have also experienced suicidal thoughts and nearly half attempting suicide at some point in their lives. I used these findings in a conversation with my service manager Sue, where I asked if I could start a local service development project around LGBT+ inclusivity. Sue was really supportive and that’s where it all began!
Getting the ball rolling and identifying our role
I started networking with other organisations around the city that stood out to me as having strong values around LGBT+ inclusivity. I also met with our Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Caroline, who was supportive of my ideas. Rhys, a like-minded ally, happened to join my team and we began to work on the project together. We focused on our service area to begin with, the priority being around awareness training for staff. We bought rainbow lanyards for ourselves so we could visually represent inclusivity – a great conversation starter! Interest grew, momentum gathered and together, in March last year, we created the Rainbow Alliance.
In short, the Rainbow Alliance is a network of staff, service users and carers committed to enhancing the quality of services the Trust delivers to the LGBT+ community. In the essence of integrated working within the mental health system, the alliance has started to establish working partnerships with third sector support services. There are also links developing with Leeds City Council and NHS providers like Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. Most importantly, the alliance is working to build relationships within the LGBT+ community itself.
There are around 80 members from varied roles and at different levels throughout the Trust. We also have members of the public who identify as LGBT+, people with lived experience of mental health difficulties and people who identify as a carer within this community of people. You’ll see us around as we’ll be sporting rainbow lanyards! Our Chief Executive, Sara Munro, has also joined us and visibly supports our work.
We’re really proud that in such a short space of time we’ve gained this much interest and we can start to really influence our services. We even won a Trust Award last year after being shortlisted in the Staff Health and Wellbeing category. This acknowledgement meant so much to us as it shows we have support from across the Trust for this movement.
So where do we go from here?
Our core purpose is to engage and empower members and help them to improve our services. We actively support members to develop an LGBT+ inclusive environment within their areas. They’re encouraged to address any homophobia, transphobia and biphobia which they encounter or witness and be confident in doing so. This includes the views, comments and opinions of both staff and service users. Rhys and I will continue to lead on developing the shared objectives, but in order for the movement to be successful, it must be led by members working closely with the LGBT+ communities. It’s also essential we have the support of the Trust’s wider Equality and Inclusion agenda.
We’ve been working on a training plan for the year. The sessions will raise awareness of the mental health and social needs of these communities and look at how we can continuously meet these needs within our areas.
Our focus for the next few months is:
- the visibility of the Rainbow Alliance in service areas
- recruiting members who are representative of the wider LGBT+ community
- ensuring meaningful member engagement and looking at how we can evaluate the effectiveness of our staff training plan
- the introduction of sexual orientation monitoring within our services
Rhys and I lead the Rainbow Alliance alongside our full-time jobs so while we’re extremely busy, we’d love you to get in touch if you would like to join as a member or have any improvement ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org.