Pinpointing England’s LGBT Heritage

Internal Communications Officer, Laura Fenn, talks about the theme of this year’s LGBT History month and the challenges ahead for NHSBT’s LGBT+ Network.

As February marks the UK’s LGBT History Month, we celebrate the history and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people across the country. The theme for LGBT History month this year is Geography: Mapping the World and whilst doing some research for this blog, I came across Pride of Place: an interactive map created by English Heritage which highlights locations with special significance in LGBT history.

Although there is much to be desired for my hometown of Plymouth – a now-demolished tavern which was the meeting place for gay men in the 50s and is now the site of a 4-storey brutalist car park, and the site where Lieutenant William Berry was hanged for ‘buggery’ on board HMS Hazard in 1807 – I came across some more iconic locations around our NHSBT offices in London and Manchester.

No. 14 Margaret Street, a few buildings down from our West End Donor Centre in London, is the former residence of Dr James Barry (1795 – 1865), a military surgeon. Barry served in India and Cape Town, South Africa. By the end of his career, he had risen to the rank of Inspector General in charge of military hospitals. He not only improved conditions for wounded soldiers, but also the conditions for locals. He conducted the first C-section in Africa by a British surgeon in which both the mother and child survived the operation.

All this is amazing enough, but the story has another twist. Although Barry lived his adult life as a man, he was assigned female at birth, named Margaret Ann Bulkley. He chose to live as a man so that he could attend university and pursue a career as a surgeon. His sex was only discovered by the public and his colleagues after his death. Barry was the first qualified female British doctor or surgeon known, preceding Elizabeth Garrett Anderson by over 50 years.

Church House, five minutes’ walk from our Norfolk House Blood Donor Centre in Manchester, is the site of the first meeting of the North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee (NWHLRC) on 7 October 1964. The NWHLRC (now known as Campaign for Homosexual Equality) along with the Homosexual Law Reform Society successfully campaigned for the decriminalisation of sex between men and is one of the oldest gay rights organisations in the UK.

To think, these historic sites are only a stone’s throw away from where many of us work each day. Why not check out your local NHSBT base and see what LGBT history resides near you on the Pride of Place map? It is an interactive map so you can add your own pins too.

As I think about the history of LGBT, I also think about the present and future, particularly with regards to NHSBT’s LGBT+ Network – of which I am a member – and what this year’s theme means to us. We are a widespread and mobile workforce. Although many of us are based in offices, others are part of mobile blood donation teams; Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation (SN-OD) are often embedded in hospitals and our drivers transport blood and supplies around the country, around the clock. It is not unheard of for a Regional Manager to ‘touch base’ in their office as little as once a fortnight.

Regardless of your role, your location, whether you are based in a laboratory in Filton or bleeding donors in a village hall in Hull, how do we ensure that we create a safe and inclusive environment for our colleagues who identify as LGBT+? This is one of the many challenges the LGBT+ Network will be tackling in 2018.

I joined NHSBT in 2013 and I have always felt I could be very open about my sexuality with my colleagues and talk about what I did on the weekend with my girlfriend. Until only recently, it dawned on me that this shouldn’t be something I feel lucky or grateful for; this should be a given – not just for me but everyone who identifies as LGBT+ in this organisation.

LGBT History Month aims to promote equality and diversity, recognises the importance of an inclusive working environment and having a workforce that is representative of the communities we serve.

We all have a responsibility to ensure we are providing an inclusive environment for LGBT+ colleagues, no matter where we are based or what our role is.

This year brings an exciting yet busy chapter for our network. Established only last year, there is much work to be done and our journey is only just beginning. If you have any thoughts on how we can make our workplaces more inclusive, please comment below.


If you would like to find more information about NHSBT’s LGBT+ Network, please visit the People First page or contact the Chair, Luke Foster.



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  1. 1

    Laura, thanks for taking the time to write such an interesting blog and giving us some inspiring ideas. Your statement about not having to feel lucky to be able to be yourself is an really important point.

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    Thanks Laura for an interesting blog, will look up the interactive map to see what part Birmingham has played in our LGBT history.

  5. 5

    Thanks Laura, for a great blog. It is thought provoking and hopefully will start up conversations to overcoming obstacles in creating an all inclusive workplace.

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