‘A journey of change’: RACGP to march in Mardi Gras parade

Filip Vukasin

20/02/2023 4:52:32 PM

The college will be well represented at the event, featuring on the ‘Pride in Medicine and Surgery’ float for the first time.

A collage of images.
Four college representatives will fly the flag at this year’s Mardi Gras parade: (L-R) GPs Dr Rebekah Hoffman, Professor Ruth McNair, Dr George Forgan-Smith and CEO Paul Wappett.

The end of summer is the usual time for Sydney’s Mardi Gras but this year’s event holds additional significance.
Not only will it be the first World Pride event ever held in the Southern Hemisphere, it will also represent the first time that the RACGP has officially participated in Australia’s largest celebration of LGBTQIA+ diversity.
Four college representatives – three GPs and one executive team member – will fly the flag at this year’s Mardi Gras parade on the ‘Pride in Medicine and Surgery’ float, which will be decked out as emergency room cubicles.
Ahead of the parade, newsGP speaks to the four participants about inclusivity, LGBTQIA+ health and celebration.
First time
RACGP CEO Paul Wappett says the college’s inaugural appearance at Mardi Gras is sign of the organisation’s evolvement.
‘We’re on a journey of change at the RACGP,’ he said.
‘[We] have been working hard to build an inclusive culture, and supporting our LGBTQIA+ members, staff and the communities in which they operate is an important part of that.’
He said the RACGP’s participation corresponds with a significant year as it is the 50th anniversary of the first Gay Pride Week and the fifth anniversary of Australian marriage equality.
‘We were pleased to be asked to support this float by the Pride in Medicine group, who do so much to provide a supportive community of medical practitioners,’ he said.
‘We’ll be one of 13 medical colleges who have joined together … to share a float in the Pride Parade, so it’s a momentous occasion.’
Around 12,500 people and 200 floats are expected to feature in this year’s Mardi Gras, while the entire 17-day WorldPride festival is expected to draw about half a million people to Sydney.
Melbourne GP Dr George Forgan-Smith will also be there and describes the parade as a ‘life-changing experience’.
‘I am really looking forward to joining other queer doctors to show we are here and proud to be of service to our community,’ he said.
As a gay male involved in the ‘Bear’ community, he finds pride in serving groups with a long history of poor engagement in health services.
‘This can be due to fear of discrimination and, sometimes, unfortunately, actual acts of discrimination,’ he said.
‘I always get so choked up when I march. Seeing the support, the love and the faces mean so much to me. From the young trans kid, the LGBTIQ friends living with disability, and our proud elders who paved the rainbow road we will be walking down.
‘The vast diversity and energy are uplifting. The roar of the crowds and the smiles! I recommend everyone attend at least once, march if you can. The impact is huge, and it’s all due to the amazing individuals who make this happen.’
LGBTQIA+ health
Dr Rebekah Hoffman is a GP in Sydney who educated herself about LGBTQIA+ health due to patient demand as a new Fellow. She sees the RACGP’s involvement as a significant step forward.
‘I’m excited as a GP, a mum and a leader,’ she said.
‘It is very significant that RACGP and other medical colleges are supporting pride month. One initiative I have seen the RACGP support recently is the use of pronouns for the team, leaders and support staff.
‘Many people won’t think about their pronouns but for gender diverse people being gendered correctly is incredibly important. Transgender and gender diverse youth who report having their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns.
‘When cisgender people, especially those in authority, take the initiative to share their pronouns it reduces the stigma associated. It signals that the RACGP is an ally.’
Professor Ruth McNair, a GP in Melbourne, agrees that the RACGP’s involvement in LGBTQIA+ events such as Mardi Gras sends a powerful message of support.
‘It is incredibly important for mainstream, peak medical bodies to be involved – it signals acceptance and that [the] RACGP believes in these unique identities,’ she said.
‘[It] creates an authorising environment for GPs to step up their skills and knowledge, and is encouraging for LGBTQ medical students and doctors who can feel very much [like] outsiders in medicine.’
Mr Wappett says the RACGP can play an important role by supporting members who in turn support LGBTQIA+ communities.
‘Providing information and resources on diversity and inclusion and engaging members in our Diversity and Inclusion working group are just some of the ways we support LGBTQIA+ health,’ he said.
‘The three members who I will be proudly marching alongside to represent the RACGP in the Pride parade are all strong advocates and supporters of LGBTQIA+ communities and LGBTQIA+ health.
‘It’s important to recognise how far we’ve come since the first Gay Pride Week 50 years ago, but we can always do more. Diversity and inclusion is a journey and something we should continue to advocate for, particularly in healthcare.’
The 2023 parade will also mark the first time that a sitting Prime Minister has marched and with increased support from corporations and organisations, only 70% of applicants for floats were accepted this year.
So, is this a sign of mainstream acceptance?
‘There is always more to do, but every step is an important one,’ Dr Hoffman said.
Professor McNair agrees that more needs to be done.
‘This is just the start,’ she said.
‘[There’s] so much to do to build acceptance and celebration in the wider community and for the range of people with multiple identities including disability and refugee status.’
She says teaching regarding LGBTIQIA+ health is paramount.
‘Now that the RACGP has GP training again, it needs to vastly improve the curriculum regarding LGBTIQA+ teaching,’ she said.
‘There is still too little and GPs are left wondering why no one is training them in this area.’
Dr Forgan-Smith says LGBTQIA+ health is poorly taught in medical schools.
‘For example, gay men have 40x the risk of rectal cancers [and] this is even higher in gay men living with HIV,’ he said.
‘This level of risk is actually higher than prostate cancer and breast cancer, but it’s not being taught. 
Our community has higher rates of substance use, unreported domestic violence, and poor screening for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart health.
‘While it’s great to have “gay-friendly” doctors, we need more than this. We need competent, trained, and caring doctors who understand that LGBTIQ health is different. 

‘Let’s make the pathway easier, lets ensure all doctors graduate with an understanding that LGBTIQ health is vital for some 30% of the community.’
The fun
World Pride continues through until 5 March and includes fashion, cinema, sports, theatre and arts events. There will also be a Human Rights Conference from 1–3 March.
Meanwhile, the Mardi Gras parade will take place on Saturday 25 February and Mr Wappett says he is a little nervous and excited to be marching.
‘Definitely a bit of both. I’m very excited and honoured to be representing the RACGP as part of this global celebration of LGBTQIA+ communities,’ he said.
‘It’s an incredible opportunity for us to show the college’s respect and support for our LGBTQIA+ members, and for all of the LGBTQIA+ patients that our members serve, and to recognise the importance and value of diversity and inclusion more broadly.
‘I’m delighted to be able to demonstrate my own personal commitment to members of the queer community, including our two queer children.
‘I am a little nervous though as the team have put together some pretty tricky dance moves which I have to pull off while marching at the same time, and I’m not known for my rhythm so I’m hoping I won’t become the subject of any memes.’
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Dr Mark Jeremy Ashcroft   21/02/2023 6:34:51 PM

Why can’t the College do something for its members for once, rather than getting involved in social and political issues