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Posted on Feb 1 2022 by Fiona Bailey

Zebra crossings across all three St Andrew’s sites have been given a rainbow makeover to show how the hospital supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT+) communities.

Unveiled as part of LGBT+ History month staff have been celebrating the walkway revamp which symbolises inclusion across the charity.

The idea to turn all the organisation’s crossings from the traditional zebra into a rainbow was thought up by Zoe Smith, who is a teacher at the St Andrew’s College and a member of the charity’s LGBT+ Network.

She said: “I thought it would be lovely, exciting and meaningful to have these colourful crossings at St Andrew’s as it shows how far we’ve come as an organisation.”

Rainbow Crossings actually started as a protest demonstration in countries with a very poor record on LGBT+ rights and freedoms and they were used as a way to remind governments, leaders and citizens of the existence and experience of LGBT+ citizens. 

Britain itself has a very chequered past in terms of the legal and social rights of LGBT+ people. 

Zoe said when she was growing up Section 28 was still in force, which meant it was illegal for schools to teach students about LGBT+ issues.

She said: “This meant I couldn’t talk to my teachers about my sexuality and therefore I got very little support. The upshot of that, for me, was that despite a kind, open-minded family, I felt unable to be open about my sexuality until I was 28. That meant a huge part of my life was spent feeling very lonely, very frightened and very uncertain.”

When Zoe started at St Andrew’s, for a time she also felt she had to hide who she really was.

“For a fair amount of time working at the hospital I felt I had to lie or skirt around the truth about myself with colleagues who would have actually have been really kind and supportive if they’d known.  I know that now because I still work with many of those colleagues and I’ve seen it for myself since coming out.”

In 2003, Section 28 ended and Civil Partnerships were brought in so LGBT+ people had a way to recognise and protect their relationships in law. 

However it was only eight years ago that the equal marriage law was introduced and sadly in Britain the rights of transgender people and the rights of LGBT+ asylum seekers are still constantly questioned in law.

Zoe explained “That’s my experience of growing up gay in a society that legally and socially didn’t want to recognise or support me – and I’m a relatively young member of the St Andrew’s community.  We probably have colleagues and almost certainly have service users who discovered their sexualities and identities at a time that it was illegal and were arrested, imprisoned, bullied and blackmailed as a result and still carry those traumas and those experiences with them today.

Zoe also said: “ In the years that I’ve worked at St Andrew’s, I’ve seen enormous progress made in the ways that we care for and support our LGBT+ service users and the visibility and support of LGBT+ staff through the PRIDE Network.

“In June 2019, we were one of the first, if not the first, mental health hospital to hold our very own Pride. The excitement that this created for our service users was wonderful to see. The difference between my experience of my sexuality and many of our service users, is that I am able, when I leave to work, to independently seek out my own safe spaces and supportive communities. For many of our resident service users, they rely on St Andrew’s to ensure that those spaces and communities are visible and available. 

“One service user I spoke to when planning the Pride said she felt it was wonderful that it is now recognised that her sexuality is not a part of her mental health difficulties and that it is something to be proud of and to celebrate. The St Andrew’s Pride made her and many other service users feel like they could do that. 

“For me, the rainbow walkways now serve as a permanent, symbolic representation of St Andrew’s journey on LGBT+ equality and rights and its commitment to continuing to offer that is an incredible feeling.  It serves as a cheerful and fun reminder of what we’ve achieved as an organisation and what we can continue to achieve. It also brings us all together in a celebration of what it means to be able to live and work freely as yourself and having a community around you that supports and values that with you. 

“I’m incredibly grateful to the Executive for carrying the suggestion forward, to the Estates and Comms team for making it a reality and to everyone in the St Andrew’s community that continues to make us feel like its a safe and welcoming place to work.”