Gavin Kirby (he/they)
Radiotherapy Physicist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre.
Where on the LGBTQ+ spectrum do you identify?
I'm a gay man.
What does your work involve?
I currently rotate between our different sections: dosimetry physics, treatment planning, and imaging related to radiotherapy. My background has also involved scientific computing related to medical physics, such as developing and commissioning bespoke software applications, data analysis, and data visualization.
What challenges have you faced being LGBTQ+? Bit of personal history maybe?
I guess I'd say the culture (academic and otherwise) around science is largely quite socially conservative in a lot of different ways, which even a few non-LGBT folk I've known have pointed out. Moreover, I've struggled a lot in my earlier life in terms of being marginalized and thereafter rebuilding my confidence, and I do think that cis-straight people's ignorance is the biggest obstacle here. I'm happy to say that I've been fairly fortunate in most of my adult life (school was a different matter, but I guess that's so typical of an LGBT+ person's life story that it's almost a trope in itself) in that I've not faced too many direct challenges. Of course, I'm quite aware that as a cis white university educated broadly gender conforming gay man, I have quite a few forms of societal privilege that are de facto denied to many others.
For my part, I'd say the difficulty in functioning in a more conservative work environment (certainly when compared to e.g. university) has more to do with a lack of awareness, manifesting e.g. in occasional inappropriate questions, or just statements that belie a certain cluelessness about how people who aren't cis-straight live their lives. The forms in which this has manifested in my life were mostly benign, if at times a little grating, but it's not hard for me to envisage that other people might find that they pose a more serious problem. There was a memorably cringey incident when I was a first-year trainee, involving a couple of physicists asking me which of two pin-up girls I found more attractive, in what I suppose was some sort of misguided attempt to establish a sense of male camaraderie in a tediously "locker-room bravado" macho way. Obviously shockingly unprofessional on many levels, but it didn't seem to occur to them that there could well be an entirely different way in which it was a singularly inappropriate question to ask.
What changes could be made to achieve a more inclusive work environment?
I don't want to go too far down the rabbit-hole of implying that it's primarily the responsibility of an embattled or marginalized social minority group's members to advocate for the group in mainstream society (even if that is in practice what usually happens). It's ultimately on cis-straight people to learn how to be accommodating. But nonetheless, I think there are a few things (such as this!) that we can do to increase visibility relatively easily. I also think efforts to normalize more inclusive language can be hugely beneficial, and using it helps to demonstrate to people who have less direct awareness of sexuality and gender issues that inclusivity can cost very little, while socially exclusionary attitudes can cost quite a lot.
What is IPEM doing well for the LGBTQ+ community and its members? What should / could IPEM be doing to increase LGBTQ+ inclusion?
[I feel there's significant overlap in my answers to these questions, so it makes sense for me to group them together]
I feel our [LGBTQ Community] SIG is a useful starting point, although perhaps awareness of it and what it's for could be increased. More visibility is never a bad thing! Wider representation at LGBT+ events such as LGBTSTEMinar, as well as generic IPEM and medical physics events, would also be helpful, I feel. It's important that outreach is inclusive and reflects the full diversity of people working in a profession, and an overly homogenized picture, such as tends to be painted by an unreflectively socially conservative culture, doesn't ultimately do our community (or the wider community) any favours. I suspect that it's needlessly off-putting to capable younger people who might well be drawn to, say, studying and working in a discipline that involves a lot of problem solving, quantitative reasoning, etc, but find the apparent lack of people who look like them a little jarring.
What do you think that the medical physics profession could learn from the LGBTQ+ community and their experiences?
It's important to bear in mind that our profession serves everyone, and to be ever mindful of the various dimensions of diversity that people embody. It matters (as others have aptly pointed out here) in our interactions with patients and the wider public, as well as with one another.