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Megan Ross LGBTQIA physiotherapist

Physiotherapy & LGBTQIA Inclusivity – a conversation with Dr Megan Ross

Physiotherapist and UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Megan Ross is passionate about increasing inclusivity and awareness for patients and clinicians within the physiotherapy space, and has been researching issues around physiotherapy and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity for a number of years. She was recently appointed as inaugural Chair of the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Panel to the APA (Australian Physiotherapy Association), which aims to help educate the physiotherapy profession to provide culturally appropriate care that is both sensitive and inclusive. We chatted with Megan about this exciting new appointment and her hopes for the Advisory Committee.

Congratulations on your role as the inaugural Chair of the APA LGBTQIA+ advisory panel. Can you tell us a bit about your role and what APA are doing in the LGBTQIA+ space?

Thank you. The purpose of the APA’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Panel is to increase awareness, inclusivity and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community. As a whole, the committee provides a voice within the APA for physiotherapists and patients to ensure that the those in the community are included in decisions that affect them, and provides expert advice and guidance on strategies and tools that can be developed to assist the APA in supporting LGBTQIA+ communities. One of our primary focuses for this first year is delivering education for physiotherapists about LGBTQIA+ communities and physiotherapy, and to increase externally-facing support of LGBTQIA+ communities by the APA.

My role as the elected Chair is to guide the panel to develop and refine recommendations, resources and initiatives, as well as make recommendations on behalf of the panel to the APA’s operational management team, Education Division staff and the Board of the APA via the National Advisory Council.

Are there lessons from this advisory panel about other areas of diversity and inclusivity?

Diversity, inclusion and equity in healthcare is relevant and important for all. Individuals who identify as part of LGBTQIA+ communities are one of many individuals or groups who may experience discrimination, stigma and unequal access to and experiences with healthcare. Diversity and inclusion policies support members of communities including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and First Nations Peoples, people with disabilities, people who are culturally and linguistically diverse, as well as opposing racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, ageism, classism, ableism. Many lessons and principles about inclusive language can be applied and put into practice to ensure equal access, treatment and outcomes for all patients, in environments where all people are respected and celebrated for individuality, differences and commonalities.

Are there lessons from this advisory panel that might be of interest or applicability to other professional associations?

The educational resources we are developing and delivering, and the findings from my research provide insights about physiotherapy for individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+, but many of these findings and insights can be applied across health professions. Understanding LGBTQIA+ history and barriers to accessing healthcare, learning how to use inclusive language and avoid assumptions, and how to create safe and welcoming spaces for individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ are important and applicable for all health professionals.

Are you aware of other organisations being proactive in this space? If so, do you know what they’re doing?

In the UK, and USA, the physiotherapy professional associations have well established LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups. Here in Australia, Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) has put out expressions of interest for the OTs in Action – LGBTQI+ Organisational Advisory Working Group, which has been established for the purpose of identifying opportunities to respond to and elevate OTA’s response and action on social justice issues. The Australian Psychological Society (APS) also supports and advocates for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals, including supporting psychologists who are intersex, do not identify as heterosexual and/or with the sex assigned to them at birth.

The APS contributes to submissions to government inquiries and has produced resources for health professionals (including ethical guidelines) and community members about sexual orientation, gender identity, diversity, and topics pertinent to individuals who identify as part of LGBTQIA+ communities.

The Australian Association of Social Workers also advocates for the Australian and international LGBTQIA+ community and their fight against discrimination, and have delivered professional development and education for social workers about how to promote inclusivity and wellbeing for LGBTQIA+ communities.

How do you think this role could impact on physiotherapists in practice (and potentially have value for other AHP groups?)

One of the objectives of the panel is to develop resources that assist with increasing awareness and inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community within the Australian Physiotherapy Association environment. One of our first short term goals to achieve this is to deliver education, targeted to physiotherapists currently practicing, to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills to work safely and inclusively with individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+. Much of this education, while primarily targeted to physiotherapists, is likely to be applicable for all allied health professionals, particularly around inclusive language, avoiding assumptions, creating safe and welcoming spaces, and working sensitively in any body-focused professions with individuals who are trans or gender diverse.

Can you suggest ways of addressing or improving LGBTQIA+ visibility and representation either at a professional level, by employers, educators (or other relevant groups)? What is the ideal outcome?

The ideal outcome of sensitive and inclusive practices is to create healthcare environments where all individuals feel safe, welcomed, and accepted to be their true, authentic selves. At all levels of society (beyond the healthcare context) there are many simple ways that visibility, representation, and acceptance of all individuals within LGBTQIA+ communities can be improved.

  • Avoiding assumptions
    • Understand that not all individuals identify as either male or female or that someone’s gender identity aligns with sex assigned at birth (cisnormativity)
    • Understand that not everyone is heterosexual (heteronormativity)
    • Don’t assume someone’s gender identity based on their name, appearance or sex characteristics.
  • Inclusive language
    • Avoiding these assumptions and demonstrating this in your language is one way to help people feel accepted
    • Introduce yourself and ask for people’s pronouns
    • Use gender neutral language, until you know what gendered language to use (if any).
  • Visible support
    • Use images that are representative of many diverse identities within your workplace
    • Implement an anti-discrimination policy
    • Support days of significance (i.e. International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia).

Connect with Dr Megan Ross on LinkedIn or view a complete list of Megan’s published journal articles examining representation and inclusivity of clinicians and patients in physiotherapy here.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the allied health space? Contribute to the discourse by leaving a comment below.

You may also wish to read about intersectionality in allied health—check out Robyn Delbridge’s article here.

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