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At the heart of general practice since 1960

How I came out to my GP partners

Dr Rachel Hogg: avoiding the subject became the norm

With new laws on sexual orientation at work imminent, lesbian GP Dr Rachel Hogg recalls how colleagues reacted to her sexuality

isclosing my sexuality to my GP partners was altogether different from coming out to colleagues during my hospital rotations.

Relationships with colleagues and patients were long-term. Who I was as a person mattered as much as my doctor skills. My personality, attitudes and priorities needed to complement those of my chosen GP partners and were open to patient scrutiny. There was curiosity about my home life and opportunities for 'doctor-spotting' in the community.

I was offered a partnership in the practice where I finished my registrar rotation. The practice was in a relatively small community and the partners were all married men. They were a friendly bunch, but I was extremely nervous and more preoccupied with whether to come out than with the finer points of practice accounts. Other gay GPs I knew had chosen not to come out at work, so I lacked a positive role model. My choice was to say nothing, see if the topic came up naturally and run the risk a colleague might be homophobic, or bite the bullet and come out immediately.

The latter avoided working under the sword of Damocles and would enable me to look for a job elsewhere if the response was negative. I hoped for refreshing openness where I could talk naturally about my life without being guarded or editing.

The initial response was good, and there were no homophobic comments. But to my disappointment a kind of 'stalemate' ensued. I was never asked about my relationships. Avoiding the subject became the norm.

Maybe the doctors were inhibited by fear of the unfamiliar. Maybe I was inhibited by fear of disapproval and embarrassment.

An opportunity to break the ice arose when I was invited to bring a guest to a social function, but my partner felt uncomfortable about going and in retrospect it was an important lost opportunity.

I was eventually spotted by patients in the local gay pub. I had dreaded this and believed word would spread quickly. I waited for Armageddon. Time passed and no homophobic graffiti appeared on the health centre wall and patients continued to attend.

A move to London inspired a fresh start. I even put my GLADD (Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists) membership on my CV. I migrated to a larger, more visible gay community, hoping for greater acceptability, anonymity and social opportunities.

I now work as a salaried GP in an inner-city practice. The environment is stimulating; communication good and I feel comfortable coming out in an 'ad hoc' way to individuals as they get to know me. My increased confidence came as much from breaking my isolation as moving to London.

GLADD helped a lot. It has around 400 members and holds regular national and regional events. As well as providing professional and social support, the organisation has drawn up guidance on 'Dignity at Work for Gay and Lesbian Doctors and Dentists' that supports the Department of Health's 'Improving Working Lives' initiative.

GP guidelines suggest inclusion of sexuality in equal opportunity sections of staff contracts and partnership agreements. From December 2003 it will be illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation at work in the UK.

Details of this legislation are at www.dti.gov.uk/er/equality/wayahead.htm

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