NSW government and ACON on Wednesday announced that it was setting up the first state-funded health care centre for the LGBTQI community

St Vincent’s Hospital out gay chief executive Anthony Schembri, who was at the launch, shared his own personal experience as a patient, that put the spotlight on the challenges faced by LGBTQI persons when accessing public and private health services in Australia.

Schembri said that he felt “uncomfortable” as a gay patient. 

‘Wasn’t Prepared For The Number Of Times I Was Asked About My Wife’, Says Gay CEO

Schembri was speaking at the launch of the LGBTQI Health Strategy at Kinghorn Cancer Centre at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Earlier this year in January, he was diagnosed with “a rare and random life-changing illness” and spent eight weeks “in and out of hospitals across the public and private systems.” 

Schembri said he had come out at the age of 14 and had lived and worked for over 25 years in clinical, managerial and chief executive roles in the New South Wales health system.

“I thought I knew our public and private systems well. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of times as a patient, I was asked if my wife was coming to pick me up after a procedure or whether my partner –  pronoun, ‘she or her’ – was joining the consultation,” said Schembri, who rejoined work last week. 

“There was an assumption I was heterosexual in those healthcare interactions. Not always, but enough to feel uncomfortable at times. And in that moment, as an openly gay man my whole adult life, as a confident health chief executive, there is that moment that goes through your mind – will I come out in this moment? And if I do, how will I be treated? Will I be treated any differently? Will it affect my care? What will be the reaction?” recalled Schembri.

The CEO said that his recent lived experience, “reinforced why it is timely for us to deliver to the New South Wales Health System and our partners, a very clear direction to elevate the health and wellbeing of LGBTQI people across our state to support the health outcomes that matter the most to us. ” 

‘It’s Disturbing Things haven’t Changed’

Robyn Kennedy, 78er, former board member of the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras and Vice President of InterPride.

78er Robyn Kennedy, a former board member of the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras and Vice President of InterPride, speaking at the same event, said she had a similar experience when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. 

“I think that raises an issue that the experiences that Anthony referred to, mirror very much the experiences I had many years ago. So that’s a little bit disturbing that it hasn’t changed,” said Kennedy. 

“I had multiple encounters where I was asked about my husband. It never seemed to occur to anyone that my partner might be female. Throughout my treatment, I was continually required to correct the assumptions made about my sexuality, which meant having to come out over and over, day after day.”

“These assumptions about my sexuality simply added another burden to be overcome. Before each treatment, I had to psych myself up not only for the physical impact, but the emotional impact of coming out again and again at a time of intense vulnerability,” said Kennedy, adding that she had seen some change in attitudes recently. 

Challenges Faced By Older LGBTQI

Kennedy said that the state’s LGBTIQ+ health strategy was “timely” in the context of challenges faced by LGBTQI seniors. 

“It’s important to recognize that many many older LGBTQI people in Australia are the first in our society to have lived their entire adult lives out and proud,” said the 78er. 

“The implications for the healthcare system, in relation to the aging of our communities are significant. Many of us fear reaching an age when we can no longer remain at home because we do not want to lose our identity, an identity that we have fought for over decades,” said Kennedy, adding that “aged care is almost universally framed by heteronormative assumptions.”

NSW government said will invest around $4.2 million to set up the new health centre for LGBTQI community, which will be run by ACON. The government also announced that it will invest $ 3.4m to support specialist health services for trans and gender diverse young people, $2.65m for education and training of health staff and $1.78m towards mental health and suicide prevention services.



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