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The Perspective
The Perspective

June 27, 2016

Caring with Pride

Perspectives from David Brownstone and Christine Robinson

David Brownstone is a Professional Practice Lead and Education Coordinator in the Department of Social Work and is the Co-Chair of the LGBT@SK Committee.

Upon writing this piece I recalled a recent conversation with my nieces about my coming out experience. They are in their early twenties and it’s clear they have a very different sense of integration when it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity. I had to explain the very different climate into which I came out. They had friends who were already identifying as gay in Grade 8 -- I didn’t come out until I was 20. Their open-mindedness is thanks to the many people who have individually and collectively worked to create greater awareness and inclusion which supports the evolution of our society to be more affirming.

I’ve been out as a gay man for almost 30 years and I was an activist in the LGBT community prior to coming to SickKids 17 years ago. When I first came to SickKids I had to think about how my identity played a role in my professional life – especially when I had been quite public in my previous work in the community. This was a quick evolution for me – with largely positive response from colleagues – though I have been confronted with personal challenges and considerations along the way.

Raising the Pride flag at SickKids
Christine Robinson, Kathleen Hughes, David Brownstone and Cathy Maser, members of the LGBT@SK Committee, raise the Pride flag in front of SickKids.

Upon reflection, I acknowledge that my orientation has some bearing on my clinical skills. It informs my perspective, as all of our life experiences do. I have made the choice to be open with my colleagues and trainees about my orientation, which reflects more about my personality than anything else. Others may choose not to be as open. In my work with patients and families, this topic has not come up, although I’d be naïve to think some or many of them had not made the assumption. There have been times where I have been aware that others have not had such a clear or supported path.

At SickKids, we treat many children and youth who identify as LGBT, some who may not identify with any specific label and some who struggle to understand who they are. We see a variety of family constellations and children raised by LGBT-identified parents. The Transgender Clinic opened over two years ago, and we see both children and youth who identify as transgender, or are gender non-conforming, and their families. While as an organization we pride ourselves on providing child and family-centred care, I am aware that some staff continue to make assumptions or are challenged by responding in an inclusive manner to a patient’s orientation or identity and have questions about families who represent different identities and challenge the usual definition of “mommy”, “male”, or “family”.

While we embrace diversity as an organization, we can do better at promoting inclusion across the hospital. However, change is happening and I am excited by the more recent refocusing that has been taking place at SickKids to ensure we create a safe, affirming space for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities that come to receive care, work, train and volunteer at SickKids.

In May, the federal government announced legislation that would guarantee legal and human rights protection to transgender people across Canada. On June 1, the Pride flag was raised on Parliament Hill for the first time in history. That same day, we raised the Pride flag here at SickKids for the first time. This was a symbolic moment for me, representing a sign of great things to come. Then less than two weeks later, the tragedy in Orlando became an all too real reminder that while we have come a long way, there is still much work to be done. I am even more energized to do this work and I have been heartened by those who have reached out to the LGBT @SK Committee to express their support and get involved.

I have continued my activism over the years, and am proud to have been involved in various diversity and inclusion initiatives at SickKids. What excites me now is that these efforts are not in isolation – there is a renewed collaboration of people from across the hospital working together, representing the diversity of families, staff, trainees and volunteers and a broad cross-section of beliefs, values and experiences. I am proud to be a Co-Chair of the LGBT Committee at SickKids and look forward to working with colleagues from across the organization to firmly entrench inclusiveness at SickKids.

Christine Robinson is the Senior Manager Compensation and Diversity in the Human Resources Department and a member of the LGBT@SK Committee.

It is indeed a very exciting time at SickKids, and as an organization we are committed to providing the best care to our patients and families, while also ensuring that the workplace is supportive of all staff, trainees and volunteers.  

With the support of senior leadership at SickKids we have established a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, whose mandate is to identify and recommend a vision and definition of diversity and inclusion at SickKids. The working group is made up of employees from across the organization bringing together a multitude of views and backgrounds to help shape the future of diversity and inclusion at SickKids. We have also established the LGBT @SK Committee, which serves in an advisory and working capacity, focused specifically on LGBT inclusiveness in both clinical service and human resource functions at SickKids. This exciting work directly links to the SickKids strategic directions to empower our people and lead in world-class quality and service excellence.

I am reminded on a daily basis, how crucial it is for our employees to feel valued, supported and safe, so that they can in turn provide the best care possible to our patients and families. Pride is an opportunity for us all to collectively celebrate and promote the diversity that can be found at SickKids, and I am excited to be a proud supporter and ally.