11 Feb 2021 | The veterinary profession
The quiet power that is just being yourself
12 Feb 2021 | Ami Sawran
Dr Ami Sawran, our LGBT+ role model, reflects on the meaning of LGBT History Month and explores why there's a quiet power in being yourself.
When LGBT+ History Month rolls around, I oscillate between awed and saddened. Stories told paint both upsetting and hopeful pictures, as they highlight how poorly LGBT+ people have been understood and treated (and still are) – but there is also progress. When I read about people who made real noise and tangible headway, I wonder what the next generation will look back on and think of us. What did we do to further our cause for visibility, acceptance and equality? What is my part in that? I think for about a second before I concede that I am not a trailblazer. I’m very ordinary, and as you might imagine as a farm vet in winter – busy. I’ve marched, supported and donated to LGBT+ charities, but if I’ve been pinned as a 2021 LGBT+ role model, what can I reasonably say that I bring to the table? And then I realise: there is a quiet power in just being unapologetically myself.
There are many points at which the needs of different marginalised groups intersect– and I think we all know that the profession could improve its approach to diversity in many spheres. For those questioning the need for role models, I hope I’ll be forgiven for borrowing the message: ‘You can’t be, what you can’t see.’ I really hope that seeing a happily queer person existing and thriving in farm practice and management helps some of my LGBT+ colleagues (and future ones!) see that they belong.
Can we make agriculture an LGBT+ friendly space?
I think it’s fair to say that many agricultural spaces are not as queer friendly as they might be. That’s not to say there aren’t progressive, accepting, or even out farmers, but I still come across people who advocate a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ stance for fear of upsetting those with ‘traditional’ values. I don’t wish that sweaty, uncomfortable sense of feeling like you must deny yourself to appease a client that ‘might not understand’ that LGBT+ people exist, on anyone.
Very often, the relationship between longstanding clients and farm vets becomes more convivial – it stands to reason that partners come up – or dating disaster stories, or plans for the future. That’s why, when asked what my ‘husband’ did or thought, I would respond with the relevant pronouns. That’s all. It’s not aggressive, but it’s a small challenge to an innocuous assumption. So, while I’m not blasting onto farm in a rainbow-wrapped pickup, I may introduce queer concepts in some form. I’m ready to challenge homophobia and transphobia that’s delivered in a presumed conspiratorial fashion; I’m not going to laugh at gay jokes and I’m going to explain why. Fun-sponging jokes at the expense of others is something of a fine art now, but I can’t pretend it was always easy, and I needed to feel sure of myself to start trying. We spend so much time at work – it’s painful to feel like you have to be someone else half the time. Our LGBT+ history role models didn’t fight for that. That’s why practices should always be examining their policies towards instances of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia – so that the people rightly challenging it feel supported and safe.
I’m a clinical director, and recently joined the Farm Executive board at VetPartners. Having LGBT+ representation at this level is important. It’s not all I am, but it forms part of my identity alongside being a vet. I want to make sure that anyone who works in my team feels their comfort at work is important, and their ability to challenge unacceptable language or behaviour is not hindered by pandering to outdated attitudes.
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