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LGBT History Month 2024: 5 Extraordinary Queer Medical Professionals You Should Know About

LGBT+ History Month 2024 Logo featuring a heart shape filled with the intersex inclusive progress pride flag and surrounded by a stethoscope.

For the LGBTQIA+ community, history can be quite complicated. While we might be able to pinpoint exactly when Drag Race US went downhill (season 10), knowing the full ins and outs of queer modern history that dates back a little further can be tricky. 

For the British queer community, this big gap in LGBTQIA+ history and culture is a result of section 28: a draconian law brought in by Thatcher that prohibited schools and authorities from openly talking about homosexuality in any shape or form. This damaging legislation was finally repealed in 2003, and while recent programmes like It’s a Sin and POSE have since been created to bring to light several important periods of queer history, it still doesn’t feel like enough to make up for the many years of harmful erasure. This is where LGBT History Month comes in.

LGBT History Month was created in February 2005 to right the many wrongs brought onto the queer community by Section 28; this month-long event raises awareness of LGBTQIA+ history by focusing on a specific theme and its relation to the UK’s queer community. Put simply, this amazing event was started so we could claim our past - and celebrate our present.

With Medicine as the theme of LGBT History Month 2024, we wanted to look a little further into the extraordinary queer medical professionals chosen by this year’s organisers, so that both the community and its allies can learn more about a topic they likely weren’t taught about in school. Because let’s face it, these five extraordinary queer professionals are much more important than The Tudors. 

Sophia Jex-Blake: Physician

Sophia Jex-Blake (January 1840 – January 1912) was the first practising female doctor in Scotland. After leading the campaign to secure women's access to university education, Sophia began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869 alongside six other women who were known collectively as the Edinburgh Seven. 

Following her qualification as a Doctor, Sophia helped found two medical schools for women in London and Edinburgh - during a time when medical schools were only training men. 

After she retired in 1899, Sophia moved to Rotherfield with fellow physician, Dr Margaret Todd whom she was assumed to have been in a romantic relationship with; the two transformed their home into a meeting place for colleagues and former students, welcoming writers and acquaintances from all over the world.

Sophia Jex-Blake Aged 25 Portrait by Samuel Laurence 1865

Cecil Belfield Clarke: GP

Cecil Belfield Clarke (April 1894 - November 1970) is famous for his numerous contributions to the field of medicine; Clark’s rule, used to calculate the proper medicine dosage for children aged 2-17, is still considered a vital tool for healthcare professionals today.

Cecil began his education at Combermere School in Barbados, before winning a prestigious scholarship to study medicine at Cambridge University in the UK. He earned his degree during World War I and immediately began working as a GP in Elephant & Castle in the final years of the war. He continued this role for over 40 years, in time becoming a highly respected physician in his own right. 

Due to homosexuality being illegal, Cecil was forced to live discreetly as a gay man throughout his life; however, his lifelong partner, Pat Walker, was a pivotal part of his personal and professional life. Following Cecil’s death in 1970, a blue plaque of commemoration was placed near his practice, while St Catharine's College continues to award the prize he endowed to keep his legacy alive.

Photograph of deceased physician and activist Cecil Belfield Clarke (1894 – 1970)

Margaret Stacey: Medical Sociologist

Professor Margaret “Meg” Stacey (March 1922 - February 2004) was the force behind the invaluable research project “Children in Hospital” that looked into the well-being of children receiving medical care. This research marked Meg as a pioneer of medical sociology. 

After graduating from the London School of Economics with a first-class honours degree in Sociology in 1943, Meg joined Swansea University; it was here that Meg led the revolutionary research project “Children in Hospital.” During her professional career, Meg became a pioneer in establishing medical sociology as a field of study, looking into how gender, education and race affect our health in varying ways. She later made history as the first woman appointed to a professorship at the University of Warwick.

Meg married Frank Stacey, a political scientist, raising four children and a foster child before he died in 1977. Meg shared the remainder of her life with partner Jennifer Lorch, enjoying gardening and studying Buddhism. 

Professor Margaret Stacey

Ewan Forbes: Rural GP

Ewan Forbes (September 1912 - September 1991) was a rural GP and Scottish nobleman who played a pivotal role in advancing transgender rights in the United Kingdom. 

Ewan began identifying as a boy from early in life, pursuing his education in medical school as a male, despite the legal lack of recognition. After graduating in 1944, Ewan quickly became a well-loved GP in the community and took a historic step in legally re-registering his birth gender in 1952. It was here he legally adopted the name Ewan Forbes-Sempill.

While this re-registration initially went through smoothly, after Ewan’s brother died in 1965, a cousin challenged Ewan’s right to inheritance by arguing that he was still legally female and his re-registration was invalid. Fortunately, the Scottish Court of Session affirmed Ewan’s identity and in 1986, he officially inherited the baronetcy. Despite the case being conducted in secrecy, it marked a pivotal moment in transgender rights.

Ewan married his housekeeper and former dance troupe co-founder, Isabella Mitchell, and was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Aberdeenshire in 1969. His book of early reminiscences, The Aul’ Days, details the story of his early life, including tales of gender displacement. 

	Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet, in 1952,_11th_Baronet.jpg

George Ward: Mental Health Nurse

Left; Selfie of George Ward. Right: Selfie of George as Cherry Valentine
Left:           Right:

George Ward (November 1993 - September 2022) was an NHS mental health nurse and drag queen known by the stage name Cherry Valentine. George played an important part in supporting the NHS mental health services during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and their proud acknowledgement of their Traveller heritage helped shed light on the struggles faced by the queer Traveller community.

George grew up in an English Traveller community, stepping away from traditional career paths by being the first in their family to attend university; George graduated from mental health nursing at the University of Cumbria in 2015 before starting his drag career. In December 2020, he joined the cast of RuPaul's Drag Race UK as the unforgettable Cherry Valentine. 

Despite making a significant impact in the show, George returned to their role as a nurse during the Covid-19 pandemic to support the NHS. He shared that they felt privileged to work as a mental health nurse, and despite the difficulties of the role during lockdown, was committed to helping those who really needed it. 

George was the first Drag Race contestant to acknowledge their Romani heritage, exploring his experiences and struggle with his identity in the BBC documentary Cherry Valentine: Gypsy Queen and Proud.

What’s Happening in the UK for LGBT History Month 2024?

LGBT History Month is just one of the very many queer things we’re looking forward to in 2024. With hundreds of events across the UK, you can contact your favourite local queer organisation to see what they’re doing to mark the occasion or look on EventBrite for events celebrating LGBT History Month near you.

If you’re in Manchester, why not head to The People’s History Museum who are delving into their unique archive collection, including the archive of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and magazines collected by the founder of the famous London bookshop Gay’s the Word. You could also head to Sheffield for this queer book talk that explores which books, poems or scripts opened a whole new queer world. 

If you’re based near London, it’s worth checking out this series of events at the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House to celebrate LGBT History Month 2024. 

Image of Tilly, a smiling woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Tilly Brogan

Tilly is a queer Freelance Copywriter based in Manchester. She balances her time between working  with LGBTQ+ organisations and women’s rights charities - and people watching in various Manchester cafes. She is also a proud lesbian. You can read more of her work here.

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