NHS Kernow's proud to support Stonewall

Our Chief Operating Officer, Helen Childs, is working with Stonewall to help us become a diversity champion to encourage better lives for our workforce and the people we work for who identify as LGBT.

To celebrate this weekend's Cornwall Pride, and to recognise our new partnership with Stonewall, Helen shares her personal journey as a member of the LGBT community:

At the beginning of July the Government released the results of a survey of more than 1,000 LBGT people. It made for sad reading. 74 percent said they had to hide their sexual orientation and more than three quarters said they felt uncomfortable being their true self in public, unable to hold the hands with their same sex partners due to fear.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to be supported by the CCG to attend the Stonewall Leadership Programme. There I met, and bore witness to, some incredible individuals from all walks of life, who also happen to identify as LGBT. As part of the programme we all took part in action learning sets where we shared our personal journeys as part of this diverse community. Some stories were heart wrenching. A young man, Tim, broke down when he shared the way he had, once again, had to ‘edit’ what he did after a really special weekend in his life. He didn’t feel safe to say they had been away to Paris, and more importantly, with his boyfriend. He reached breaking point and decided he had to act and, despite risk, he came out at work and joined the programme. He had no role models to aspire to be like. Now having met John on the programme he has one!

On a personal note I have, over the years, been a victim of hate crime. Fortunately never physical abuse but verbally abused on a number of occasions. A former neighbour took offence to me and my partner and they made our lives hell for quite a period of time. I was fearful about going home on a daily basis. That’s why I prefer not to use the term lesbian, as it brings back memories of times I would wish to forget.

I would like to say, overall, attitudes are improving. I have been able to get married (the happiest day of my life) and I now hold hands with my wife in public. We sometimes have to think about it, conscious that some people may not be comfortable or approve, and we sneak other signs of affection when we can. So we are married but not always able to act married. 

This isn’t every LGBTs person’s experience. Just mine, and possibly as a result of the random abuse I suffered in my 20s, 30s and 40s. Thus far in my 50s I have been abuse free which is great and my confidence is growing. Cornwall isn’t perfect though, and I am conscious this is the case for most diverse groups, not just the LGBT community.

For a long time I have wanted to try and be the best role model I could be as a gay woman. I think it is even more important now I have an executive role within the NHS. I don’t want to be in an organisation, or health and care system, that leaves people feeling like Tim did.

I’m now supporting the CCG to become Stonewall Diversity Champions. We will be joining forces with Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust to look at how we can celebrate diversity and encourage better lives for those who identify as LGBT. Colleagues who don’t identify as LGBT will be asked to consider becoming ‘allies’.

My absolute hope, through this work, will be that we can be transparent about our individual biases and prejudices, think about diversity in it broadest context, influence our workplace for the better and ultimately encourage our local communities to do the same. Watch this space and more than happy to chat with colleagues about this article and would love to connect about it.