A safe and welcoming space for LGBTQIA+ people
The APA recently convened an LGBTQIA+ advisory panel to increase awareness and inclusivity and advocate for both patients and physiotherapists. Committee chair Megan Ross outlines the committee’s aims and introduces its members.
The APA lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and other related identities (LGBTQIA+) advisory panel was formed in 2022.
Its vision is to increase awareness and inclusivity and to provide a strong voice from within the APA to advocate for positive experiences for both patients accessing physiotherapy care and physiotherapists working in the profession.
The formation of this advisory committee demonstrates the APA’s commitment to the principle of ‘Respectful and culturally safe practice for all’ (Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency 2022) and global physiotherapy efforts towards greater inclusivity (World Physiotherapy 2019).
The development of the APA LGBTQIA+ advisory committee could not be timelier given the social context in which we live.
While diversity is increasingly accepted, and even celebrated, our recent research exploring the experiences of patients and practitioners during physiotherapy encounters revealed that patients and physiotherapists who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community experience hetero- and cis-normative assumptions (ie, assuming heterosexual sexual orientation and gender binaries to be the norm), stigma and discrimination (Ross et al 2022, Ross & Setchell 2019).
In Australia, for patients, this is accompanied by discomfort about physical proximity, touch and exposure of their bodies as well as a lack of physiotherapist knowledge about health issues specific to the LGBTQIA+ population (Ross & Setchell 2019).
In the international context, in addition to assumptions and discrimination, physiotherapists (including both clinicians and academics) experience stress and emotional labour (related to hiding their identities in the workplace to feel safe and educating colleagues) and concerns around professionalism (such as feeling that identifying and presenting as LGBTQIA+ is considered ‘unprofessional’) (Ross et al 2022).
Together, this research indicates that there is work to do within the physiotherapy profession to promote the inclusion of individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Ultimately, as a committee we want to improve this situation and ensure that individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have positive and safe experiences with and within physiotherapy.
What we hope to achieve
The APA formed the committee through an expression of interest process, to which there was an enthusiastic response from people with a range of experiences and expertise.
As a committee, we will use our collective knowledge, experience and expertise to advocate for and advise the APA on issues relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community and to serve as a voice to promote inclusivity, diversity and equity within the profession.
We have established short- and long-term goals to achieve our vision.
First, to improve the experiences of physiotherapy for patients who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, we need to address identified knowledge gaps.
The committee’s objective is to provide a sounding-board and expert opinion to APA staff and members by giving advice and input about LGBTQIA+ issues and concerns relating to people with minority sexual orientations and gender identities.
Some of the committee’s short-term goals include changes to its own processes (eg, in the APA membership portal, providing optional identification as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the ability to choose and enter pronouns) and the creation of a search function in the professional development platform to identify LGBTQIA+ relevant information and content.
We will also create an outward-facing social media and web presence.
The committee will also review and develop resources that assist with increasing awareness and inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community within the APA environment.
We have planned several education sessions for the APA membership that cover knowledge gaps identified by patients and physiotherapists about working with the LGBTQIA+ community.
We plan to develop and deliver accurate and contemporary resources and training materials to the APA’s membership, including formal professional education courses, with the long-term goal of making these accessible internationally.
How we hope to effect change within the profession
The committee plans to effect change within the profession through two key areas: education and visibility.
By highlighting issues that are important and relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community and providing the APA’s members with education developed by experts in the LGBTQIA+ health space, the committee hopes to make a positive impact on the experiences of both patients and physiotherapists.
Concurrently, we also hope to increase visibility and awareness of the importance of being both respectful and understanding of the additional barriers that individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ may experience within healthcare and specifically physiotherapy.
An internal voice within the APA will ensure that future decisions and strategies are appropriate, inclusive and sensitive to the perspective of the LGBTQIA+ community.
More broadly, we hope to effect change and challenge normative discourses present within the physiotherapy profession through promoting and demonstrating that the APA, its members and physiotherapy in Australia constitute a safe and welcoming space for all.
Megan Ross—she/her (chair)
Dr Megan Ross is a physiotherapist and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland.
As well as being chair of the APA LGBTQIA+ advisory committee, Megan is a member of the Queensland branch of the APA’s Musculoskeletal national group and a UQ Ally, serving on the UQ Ally Action Committee.
She leads a program of research in the LGBTQIA+ space, including patient and physiotherapist experiences within the profession, and holds a Physiotherapy Research Foundation Seeding Grant to develop a consumer-informed educational resource for physiotherapists about working with the LGBTQIA+ community.
With strong links to the LGBTQIA+ community and clinical, professional and research experience, Megan is passionate about the opportunity to use her expertise and provide a voice within the APA for physiotherapists and patients to ensure that the LGBTQIA+ community is included in decisions that affect them.
Bronte Scott is a physiotherapist at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, working in the acute inpatient setting, and an APA Cardiorespiratory national group member.
As a lesbian woman of faith, Bronte has lived experience of the exclusion too often encountered by the LGBTQIA+ community.
Bronte has partnered with Equality Australia and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to oppose harmful legislation and has advocated in national media for LGBTQIA+ representation and rights.
She is passionate about creating safe spaces for both queer and straight physiotherapists to navigate the complexities of sexual diversity and about advocating for the needs of LGBTQIA+ people in accessing physiotherapy.
Holly Shuttleworth is a non-binary physiotherapist who splits their time between research in paediatric disability and private practice, with a particular interest in neurological disabilities.
They are a member of the APA Victorian Branch Council and used this position to drive the creation of the LGBTQIA+ advisory group.
They also sit on a gender engagement committee with Quidditch Australia.
Dr Jenny Setchell is a senior research fellow at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Queensland.
Their research interests include critical perspectives on rehabilitation and physiotherapy and using postmodern and new-materialist theories to enhance healthcare equity.
They were involved in producing the first global diversity and inclusion policy with World Physiotherapy.
Jenny has received numerous grants and awards, including a prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council Fellowship.
They have 20 years of diverse clinical physiotherapy experience, primarily in the musculoskeletal sub-discipline.
Jenny is co-founder of the Critical Physiotherapy Network, an international network of physiotherapists across more than 30 countries working towards more sociopolitically conscious rehabilitation.
Jenny has been an acrobat and a human rights worker.
Jess Hiew is a physiotherapist and business owner.
She owns two Kieser clinics in Melbourne, Victoria.
She has over 11 years’ experience, graduating in 2011 from the University of Canberra with a Master of Physiotherapy.
She currently sits on the Diversity and Inclusion board at Kieser Australia and is a member of the GLOBE LGBTQIA+ business networking association.
Jess is an advocate for LGBTQIA+ change in private practice.
She wants to see a future where all physiotherapists in Australia are educated in providing a safe and welcoming environment for the LGBTQIA+ population.
Dr Julie Walters is the Program Director of the entry-level physiotherapy programs at the University of South Australia and has experience in public, private and educational settings across South Australia.
Julie’s PhD program of research provided her with an avenue to increase her knowledge and understanding of Australian health systems, their capacity and the social, cultural and political influences on them, developing invaluable skills in critical and systems thinking.
Julie is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and can represent it authentically from the perspective of a patient, clinician, researcher and teacher.
With over 15 years of clinical and 10 years of academic experience, Julie is ideally positioned to provide advice to the APA, influence curriculum and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Dr Liisa Laakso has been a member of the APA for 40 years, since graduation, and has worked in private practice, hospital settings and academia.
Liisa is currently employed full-time as a researcher in a Queensland metropolitan hospital with a private/public mix.
Liisa has previously been a director on the Board of the APA and served on many different committees for the APA at both state (Queensland) and national levels.
She is currently a member of an LGBTQIA+ advisory group for a major Australian cancer organisation.
Susan Mitchell is a physiotherapist now based in Adelaide, having also worked in regional South Australia, Tasmania and Scotland.
She is passionate about injury prevention, particularly training, and loves working with diverse groups of people in all industries.
She is a member of the South Australian Branch of the APA’s Occupational Health national group and has previously been on the State Branch Council of the APA.
Susan is also heavily involved in officiating at cycling events and heads the Inclusion and Diversity subcommittee of the AusCycling Technical Committee.
Tamara Crook is a physiotherapist with experience in pelvic health working in Perth, Western Australia.
She has an interest in gender-diverse health and is passionate about working with people of all sexualities and genders.
Tamara’s experience includes private inpatient and outpatient settings as well as small roles supervising, tutoring and lecturing at an undergraduate and postgraduate level in continence and pelvic health.
Tamara is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a passionate advocate and ally for the trans community.
She is excited about increasing awareness and inclusivity within the APA environment and beyond.
1. Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency 2022 [available from https://www.physiotherapyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines/Code-of-conduct.aspx accessed 31 May 2022]
2. World Physiotherapy. Policy statement: Diversity and inclusion: World Physiotherapy; 2019 [Available from: https://world.physio/policy/ps-diversity accessed 6 May 2022].
3. Ross MH, Hammond J, Bezner J, et al. An Exploration of the Experiences of Physical Therapists Who Identify as LGBTQIA+: Navigating Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Clinical, Academic, and Professional Roles. Physical Therapy 2022;102(3):pzab280. doi: https://10.1093/ptj/pzab280
4. Ross MH, Setchell J. People who identify as LGBTIQ+ can experience assumptions, discomfort, some discrimination, and a lack of knowledge while attending physiotherapy: a survey. J Physiother 2019;65(2):99-105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jphys.2019.02.002
© Copyright 2018 by Australian Physiotherapy Association. All rights reserved.