LGBT+ History Month: In conversation with Professor Kevin Fenton

Professor Kevin Fenton profile picture

14 February 2024

Professor Kevin Fenton
Regional Director
Office for Health Improvement and Disparities

LGBT+ History Month is a chance to reflect on progress made in advancing LGBTQ+ healthcare rights and representation. In your view, what have been some of the most notable recent achievements/successes?  

It's vital to acknowledge the significant progress made, from repealing Section 28 to the growing visibility of LGBTQ+ healthcare professionals. We celebrate the increased recognition of LGBTQ+ health issues in mainstream discourse, leading to tangible changes like policy reforms and inclusive healthcare practices. Personally, I'm proud of the NHS' adoption of inclusive language and policies, and the rise of LGBTQ+ staff networks fostering support and community. However, our journey continues.

How has your experience as an LGBTQ+ individual influenced your approach to healthcare leadership?

My personal journey as a black gay man profoundly influences my approach to healthcare leadership. Embracing my identity has instilled a deep commitment to authentic leadership, fostering inclusivity, empathy, and challenging the status quo within healthcare settings. Recognising the importance of LGBTQ+ representation at senior levels of the NHS is paramount. The lack of representation fuels my commitment to paving the way for others. We still need more LGBTQ+ voices in leadership positions to truly reflect the communities we serve. It not only brings diverse perspectives to decision-making but also contributes to formulating policies that better address our community's multifaceted needs.

Throughout your career, what challenges have you faced in getting LGBTQ+ issues on the agenda and prioritising it within healthcare organisations?

Throughout my career, resistance to change, unconscious bias, and a lack of data highlighting health disparities were common obstacles in prioritising LGBTQ+ issues in healthcare. However, I see these barriers crumbling. Open dialogue, data-driven advocacy, and allyship from senior leaders are dismantling them. Nevertheless, we must continue our efforts in advocacy, education, and open dialogue. Our leaders must cultivate cultures within healthcare organisations that inherently value diversity, equity, and inclusion. We must continue to push for comprehensive data collection, robust training for healthcare professionals, and inclusive service design. 

What are the key enablers to advancing LGBTQ+ healthcare rights and representation? 

I believe several factors are essential for advancing LGBTQ+ healthcare rights and representation. Line manager support is crucial, empowering staff to champion inclusivity. Senior leadership buy-in translates into concrete action, from funding LGBTQ+ initiatives to embedding inclusivity into policies and procedures. Additionally, fostering a culture of allyship, where everyone feels responsible for creating a welcoming environment, is essential. Establishing a culture that not only acknowledges but actively embraces diversity, coupled with comprehensive training for healthcare professionals on LGBTQ+ health issues, is pivotal in fostering positive change.

What do you think are the biggest public health challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community and how can these best be addressed?

The LGBTQ+ community faces unique public health challenges, including higher rates of mental health issues, HIV infection, and substance misuse, along with barriers to healthcare access. Addressing these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach. Health and care systems must ensure accessible, culturally competent services tailored to the specific needs of LGBTQ+ individuals. The NHS can play a pivotal role in addressing these challenges by implementing inclusive policies, providing LGBTQ+ affirming healthcare services, and spearheading awareness campaigns to dismantle societal stigma. Community engagement is vital too, building trust and empowering individuals to advocate for their health. Additionally, tackling the social determinants of health, such as poverty and discrimination, is crucial to creating a truly equitable healthcare system. 

What are some of the challenges you have faced being an LGBTQ+ person and from an ethnic minority background?

Navigating the intersectionality of being a black gay man of Caribbean heritage has undoubtedly added layers to the challenges faced during my career and presented unique hurdles. I've experienced microaggressions and witnessed the complex interplay of discrimination faced by marginalized communities. This fuels my determination to advocate for intersectionality, ensuring healthcare systems address the unique needs of individuals with multiple marginalised identities. Understanding the importance of intersectionality underscores the need for targeted efforts in addressing health disparities, emphasising the importance of inclusivity in healthcare practices. 

How can healthcare leaders actively engage with and support the LGBTQ+ community to ensure their healthcare needs are heard, understood and adequately addressed?  

Healthcare leaders can actively engage with and support the LGBTQ+ community by creating an inclusive environment within their organisations. This involves providing comprehensive training on LGBTQ+ health issues, actively listening to the community's needs, and ensuring that policies and practices are in place to eradicate discrimination and promote equality. Healthcare leaders must engage with the LGBTQ+ community through various channels, listening to their lived experiences, partnering with LGBTQ+ organisations, and co-creating solutions. We must create safe spaces for dialogue, celebrate diversity, and address concerns raised by the community. 

What further reflections can you share on your work?

Reflecting on my extensive work and leadership on LGBTQ+ health, a consistent emphasis lies in the power of collaboration, rigorous research, and community engagement. Through collective efforts, we can continue making significant strides in advancing healthcare rights and representation for the LGBTQ+ community, ultimately forging a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system for everyone.

Achieving true equity requires ongoing commitment and action. We must challenge homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, addressing stigma and discrimination at all levels. Investing in research and development to understand the specific health needs of diverse LGBTQ+ communities is crucial. Holding ourselves accountable through regular monitoring and evaluation of progress towards LGBTQ+ healthcare equity is essential.  

Together, we can build a healthcare system that truly serves everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other aspect of their identity. Let's celebrate the progress made and continue working towards a future where all individuals have access to the healthcare they deserve. 

About the author

Professor Kevin Fenton profile picture

Professor Kevin Fenton
Regional Director

Professor Kevin Fenton is a senior public health expert and infectious disease epidemiologist, who has worked in a variety of public health executive leadership roles across government and academia in the UK and internationally.

Professor Fenton is the regional director for London in the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the statutory public health advisor to the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority and the regional director of public health for NHS London. In addition, he is the UK government's chief advisor on HIV and chair of the HIV Action Plan Implementation Steering Group to oversee the delivery of the new HIV strategy for England.

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