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This spring, Vancouver Community College (VCC) nursing student Meaghan Brannagan brought up her recent training on the topic of gender diversity in health care with a close friend, J.L., who identifies as non-binary. Their response was candid – “It’s about time,” they said.
This friend went on to describe numerous scenarios that ranged from uncomfortable to traumatic. With J.L.’s permission, Meaghan presented what she’d learned to her class at VCC. This eye-opening report soon grew into a special campaign called “We Care for all Bodies” that will use pins to identify health care workers who are responsive to the needs of trans and non-binary people.
“Even as a queer woman, I identify with my assigned sex at birth and I’ve only ever been treated the way I wish to be treated,” says Meaghan. “I never clued into these issues until I heard about others’ experiences.
Already at a young age, J.L. remembered feeling hurt and dismissed by their family doctor when asking about gender-confirming health care. When J.L. later required a hysterectomy for medical reasons, they recalled waking up in a maternity ward alongside breastfeeding mothers, who were visibly uncomfortable with J.L.’s presence.
“J.L. felt so guilty for distressing these mothers, they chose to ignore their pain and leave the hospital before the intended time of discharge,” recalls Meaghan.
Similarly difficult experiences Meaghan learned about from J.L. and others included being accused of identity theft, enduring remarks about their body parts, and refusals to use chosen names or pronouns, all while in states of pain or distress and needing medical care.
Following Meaghan’s class presentation, VCC nursing instructor Maki Iwase reached out to VCC Jewellery Art and Design department head Karin Jones who invited students to create an inclusive pin that nursing students can wear on their scrubs after completing gender diversity training.
The chosen design was created by award-winning VCC jewellery student and 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate Kale Needham, who as a trans and nonbinary person directly relates to J.L.’s experiences in seeking gender-affirming health care. The design features a heart-shaped diversity pride flag with the message “We Care for All Bodies” at the top and “VCC Nursing” underneath.
Maki believes these pins will be an important signifier of inclusive care. “Especially now when everyone’s wearing masks, it’s hard to read expressions and you don’t know if you have psychological safety,” she says.
Meaghan and Maki say that these symbols, coupled with questions about names, pronouns, and care needs, could make a world of difference for 2SLGBTQIA+ patients.
“It’s important that people with all bodies feel safe in health care facilities,” says Meaghan. “You should never feel worse than when you went in.”
The first batch of pins is currently in production for late July 2021. Watch for students sporting them in local health care settings this fall.
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