TO mark LGBT+ History Month the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) is celebrating equality and diversity within its workforce.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “We believe having a diverse and inclusive team of colleagues and volunteers makes it a positive organisation to be part of and enhances its service to patients across the South West.
“Two SWASFT staff colleagues have shared their LGBT+ stories to raise awareness and encourage solidarity.”
Sharifa Hashem recently became SWASFT’s first-ever Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. She chose to reveal her story based on this year’s focus on unsung people and intersectionality.
She said: “My history has some complex issues, even though my day-to-day life is recognisable to many. I work in an office-based job, live with my partner; we have two pet dogs and enjoy travelling. The complexity behind that is that I was born Muslim, I am gay, my partner is female, and I am Arab British living in Devon.
“I was born in Bahrain and grew up there until the age of 11, in the midst of civil unrest and uprisings in the country. We arrived in the UK in the winter of 1996 to unfamiliar surroundings and a school system that I wasn’t able to participate in without the necessary language skills.
“As a child who is a political refuge, I soon realised that my ‘otherness’ was both visible and challenging to those around me.
“I realised in order for me to achieve my potential I would need to better my language skills, so I set about learning through reading. I started reading books with one word and a picture, progressing to books with simple sentences, onto books with paragraphs and a year from that I was in real danger of having read every book in the school library!
“My history meant that I was interested in people and the way the world around them impacted their lives. I completed a BSc in Psychology, followed by an MA in Gender and Identity in the Middle East (Exon) and an MPhil in Social Policy. Then I worked as a support worker for young adults in social care settings and I started a human rights group, which travelled to places like The United Nations and US State Department.
“Eventually I started as the Patient Engagement Manager for SWASFT, leading on the delivery of over 300 events a year, including pride events and cultural celebrations. Today, I’m in a new role as Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
“My commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion is a very personal journey. I know first-hand how it feels to be ‘othered’ and voiceless. I also know how it feels to overcome obstacles and feel supported.
“My journey to get here was supported by countless helping hands, from my school librarian who always knew which book to suggest, to my teachers who read my university application, to my colleagues who read my job statements and those who mentored and supported me.
“My visibility is not a choice; it is part of what makes me who I am. While I may have wished to be less visible growing up, I now realise my visibility may allow others to see opportunities that they had not considered before. Visibility matters, equality matters, your voice matters so make it heard.”
Tom Wing is an Operations Officer for Gloucestershire. He has spoken about his experiences of attitudes towards his sexuality at home and in the workplace.
He said: “Growing up at the bottom of the South Wales valleys, I always knew something about me was different. When I began questioning my feelings, which undoubtedly ended-up including my sexuality, a wave of fear and dread engulfed me. It took me five years before I felt comfortable and willing to ‘come out of the closet’ to my parents.
“During my childhood I can recall the derogatory terms and references my grandparents made surrounding the LGBT community. On several occasions my grandfather would tell me to walk properly as I looked like ‘one of those puffs’. Oh little did he really know…
“Scared of how everyone would react, I kept my sexuality a secret from my family and even my closest friends. It wasn’t until I went to university in Bristol to study to be a paramedic that I experienced the freedom associated with moving away from a small Welsh town and felt I could be myself.
“My career with the ambulance service started as a student at a small station, which was populated by ‘old school’ paramedics. Although my sexuality was never questioned or an issue, I felt I could never fully be myself for fear they would have an issue. I didn’t want it to jeopardise my future, as they were partially responsible for me becoming a paramedic.
“Working in Gloucester completely revolutionised my outlook and way of life. I was admittedly apprehensive of working in a completely new area, with new people, but I was made to feel at home and that my sexuality would never be an issue in the work place. ‘Normal’ conversations would be had and crewmates would even ask if I had a boyfriend.
“Seeing and hearing other people’s stories, I realise I am fortunate to have had such a positive experience in the workplace. Being a part of the National Ambulance LGBT network and working with colleagues across the county, seeing the positive work that is being completed to support LGBT staff and the achievements that have been made, such as the first National Ambulance LGBT Conference, shows how far we and our predecessors have come.”
SWASFT LGBT Network exists to celebrate difference and diversity within the trust, to share an understanding of the experiences of LGBT staff, and to provide support for them.