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“Everybody is welcome, every day of the year”

OT  spoke to optometrists about inclusion, visibility and the importance of providing safe spaces beyond Pride month

A rainbow flag is pictured in front of a backdrop of buildings.
Pixabay/Boris Štromar
On a treelined street in Chorlton, Manchester, between a gift shop and Royce Balti Palace, a portrait of a drag queen with a towering blonde bouffant graces the window.

Framed Opticians chose to recognise the legacy of Paul O’Grady for Pride month in June, following his death at the age of 67 in March. O’Grady presented several mainstream television programmes as his drag queen alter ego, Lily Savage, in the 1990s.

“She was ground-breaking really in terms of visibility,” optometrist Peter Sunderland explains.

“She brought a drag queen to Saturday night TV and made it acceptable for some guy to go down to the pub, then come home and have a right old laugh at Lily Savage presenting Blankety Blank,” he said.

Framed Opticians has previously showcased mathematician and World War II code-breaker, Alan Turing, and US drag queen, RuPaul, through window displays.

A window display shows an illustration of the drag queen Lily Savage with blonde hair, a pink dress and blue eye make-up. A speech bubble next to Savage says, ‘Well it looks like we’ve got help with the washing up.’
A window display paying tribute to Lily Savage, the drag queen alter ego of Paul O’Grady, at Framed Opticians in Chorlton, Manchester. The display was created by Lobster House Studios.

Sunderland, highlighted the importance of every member of society being represented – whether that is on television, in the media or in a shop window.

“By putting people’s faces on our business windows, and celebrating those people, we bring them to the fore,” he said.

Sunderland emphasised the importance of creating a welcoming environment in practice on every day of the year. All year round, Pride stickers are displayed on the shopfront.

“It’s not just lip service – it is part of our ethos and it is part of our mentality, that everybody is welcome, every day of the year. Nobody will be discriminated against,” he said.

Sunderland highlighted that the Equality Act 2010 prohibits businesses or individuals from discriminating on the basis of protected characteristics – including sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

Optometrist and Framed Opticians director, Peter Sunderland. He is wearing a grey suit jacket and a pink shirt, and has a soft expression on his face with a slight smile.
Optometrist and Framed Opticians director, Peter Sunderland
“We not only have a moral obligation to make these people feel welcomed but we also have a legal responsibility not to discriminate against them,” Sunderland said.

While Pride is often thought of as a celebration, Sunderland noted that the month has its roots in protest and in defending the rights of LGBQTIA+ people.

He added that at the moment it is a particularly challenging time for members of the trans community.

“They are the people who need their rights defended the most. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with those people,” Sunderland said.

In terms of practical steps Framed Opticians takes to ensure an inclusive environment, staff check the preferred title of a customer and make sure that this is used at future visits.

“At a practice level, we ensure that we address people in the correct way. We actively ask that so when they arrive in practice they are being greeted in the way that they wish,” Framed Opticians business manager Laura Keyte told OT.

The Chorlton branch has made special provisions for young people who are transitioning so they can come in and try on frames in a private environment.

“We listen, we give people time and we make sure they are comfortable in the space,” Keyte said.

If a patient mentions a partner, staff will default to they/them pronouns unless a gender is mentioned.

Eyewear is not categorised by gender, giving customers the freedom to choose the frame that suits them best.

“It is not my role to say to someone ‘That is a man’s frame’ or ‘That is a woman’s frame’,” Sunderland shared.

“If someone wants to try a frame on, and they think they look the bee’s knees in it, what gives me the right to say ‘Actually sir, that is a ladies frame – you shouldn’t buy that one’,” he said.

Sunderland observed that people frequently comment on the fact that they saw a Pride flag in the window.

“They realise it is a safe space. They can be who they want to be within our practices,” he said.

“Personally, for me when I see a pride flag in a window, I feel like I can go into a business and not feel like I have to pass my husband off as my brother, or that I have to talk or behave differently,” he said.

“We do not mix prejudice with the delivery of vital health services”

Reflecting on Pride month, optometrist and AOP Councillor, Karan Vyas, observed that he has felt judged in the past when he has entered a store with a same sex partner.

“It is important that we do not mix prejudice with the delivery of vital health services such as eye care,” Vyas emphasised.

He added that it is important not to make assumptions about someone’s gender or sexuality.

Optometrist, Karan Vyas, stands in front of a river with green fields in the background. He
Optometrist Karan Vyas
“It is about how someone sees themself and it is not for the practitioner to label this. This way patients feel like they can be themselves and this not only creates a safe space for the patient but also helps to build a rapport, which is key in delivering care,” Vyas shared.

In the past, Vyas has had to correct people when he has been asked what his girlfriend does.

“Language is key and using words like partner allows for a more inclusive environment,” he said.

Vyas shared that he has heard of optometrists who will use incorrect pronouns towards a patient to make a point about their own beliefs.

He observed that this disregard of a patient’s preferences is rude and shows poor manners.

“The consulting room is not the place for optometrists to demonstrate their personal views. Doing this only takes away the dignity of the patient and makes them feel less human,” Vyas said.

Like Sunderland, Vyas believes that having gender neutral frames gives patients the freedom to choose spectacles based on how they look – without feeling labelled.

Vyas shared that Specsavers have added the Mx title for those who do not identify as Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms.

“This is a big change and has created an inclusive environment,” he said.

There are also changes in development that would allow a patient’s preferred name to be listed on their record, even if it has not legally been changed.

The Prism network within Specsavers is working to improve LGBT+ representation within the company and improve training.

For Pride month in June, many Specsavers practices have been decorated with Pride flags and balloons, while some employees have been wearing a Specsavers Pride pin.

“Celebrating pride and showing solidarity with the LGBT+ community demonstrates not only support, but also allows practices to be seen as safe spaces,” Vyas shared.

Making eGOS forms more inclusive

Optometrist Rachel Moore, of Norville Keynsham Opticians, contacted OT in November last year asking for advice on how to extend the choice of options on the eGOS form to include ‘Mx’.

“I have patients who would much prefer this option or even the choice of opting out of pronoun use altogether,” Moore shared.

A Capita spokesperson told OT: “PCSE would be happy to support a change requested by NHS England to make the eGOS form more inclusive and introduce a broader range of pronouns.”

Following a request for comment, a spokesperson for NHS England responded that such changes to the GOS form would need to be considered by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Moore shared that being unable to use a person’s correct title can alienate a patient.

“Taking the effort to get pronunciation, title and pronoun correct seems a minimal courtesy,” she said.

Ideally, she would like to see the ability to input a preferred title. If this is not possible, then the patient should be able to opt-out of providing a title.

“This would provide maximum inclusivity and allow for modern thinking. Norville Keynsham Opticians has always and will continue to modernise and adapt, as should the profession as a whole,” Moore said.

Vyas shared his view that the NHS needs to reflect society – and updated GOS forms are part of this.

“Having different gender options on GOS forms allows for all patients to feel it is their NHS,” he said.

Vyas emphasised that the NHS Constitution states that the health service is available to all – irrespective of protected characteristics, including gender and gender reassignment.

“This should be reflected in all aspects of the service including down to the forms a patient has to sign,” he said.

Vyas highlighted that a Stonewall report in 2019 found that one in four people from the LGBT+ community had witnessed or experienced derogatory remarks when receiving healthcare.

He shared that while changes to language and systems may seem small, they signal a cultural shift towards making eye care a more inclusive environment.

“It is essential that we continue to highlight that healthcare is the right of all, including those from an LGBT+ background,” Vyas shared.

“The current system creates an unwelcoming environment making obtaining essential healthcare more difficult for those from the LGBT+ community. This is problematic as we know that when patients do not present to get regular check or when they have symptoms, it can lead to a higher level of sight loss,” he said.

OT  asks...

Would you support the expansion of the titles used within GOS forms to include one of the below?
  • Mx

    3 7%
  • The ability to input a preferred title

    0 0%
  • The ability to opt-out of providing a title

    2 4%
  • All of the above

    19 45%
  • None of the above, not a priority

    18 42%