February marks LGBT+ history month and this year’s theme is all about health; so, Becky spoke with Geraldine Achieng from LGBT Foundation about their work to support health and wellbeing.

Geraldine is dedicated to equality and inclusivity. She is business development manager for LGBT Foundation in Cheshire and Merseyside and sits on Baltic Creative’s board as a non-executive director. Originally from Kenya, her career crosses various organisations, each a stepping stone towards her current role. From working at Merseyside Youth Association to WHISC and the Basement Advisory Centre, Gerry’s path has involved a commitment to amplifying marginalised voices and advocating for fundamental rights.

The work of LGBT Foundation

“We exist to spread queer hope and joy,” Gerry tells me of the foundation’s mission. “Our services are a lifeline for those in need,” she adds, underscoring the critical role the foundation plays in providing support for recovery, sexual health, domestic abuse, and pride in ageing – as well as many other services made by and for queer people. Their work extends to policy issues also. From working alongside local authorities to educating their community, Gerry says their aim “is to keep people informed of legislation that affects them. This year we’re campaigning to encourage people to get out there and vote.” The foundation is giving individuals the all-important power of knowledge, particularly about decisions which affect them directly. “It’s all about empowerment and elevating our community!” says Gerry.

In her own role, Gerry’s work ensures the foundation’s reach extends far beyond the confines of its physical locations. Through partnerships and collaborations, Gerry and her team bridge gaps in service provision, to link their work in Greater Manchester with Cheshire and Merseyside. Gerry says the focus is to “respond to requests from queer people in the community … and collaborate with the amazing organisations which already exist in Liverpool.” One such organisation is the BHA – a sexual health service for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities which is part of the PaSH Partnership. This joint venture between the BHA, George House Trust, and LGBT Foundation exists to give sexual health advice and support to people living with HIV, including those who are newly diagnosed or at risk. 

“We empower LGBTQ+ to realise their full potential, every day!”
Geraldine Achieng – business development manager at LGBT Foundation and director at Baltic Creative CIC. (Image credit: Pete Carr)

Recognising healthcare inequalities

With the theme of this year’s LGBTQ+ history month in mind, I ask Gerry about the inequalities she comes across. In a recent census of helpline users, Gerry tells me the “number one issue” was mental health. She explains that societal preconceptions create barriers which lead to “silence and invisibility in the community.” According to Gerry, Liverpool has one of the largest LGBTQ+ populations, and one of the largest trans communities, in terms of local authority. She speaks of the difficulties experienced by LGBTQ+ youth in our city: “the three biggest issues that we come across in this area are mental health, coming out and gender identity … Liverpool has a massive population of young people who identify as LGBTQ+, so we’re seeing mental health issues present at a very early age here.” 

It’s the trans community that, in Gerry’s words, “are really impacted by these issues.” In December, the UK Government published non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges advising how they should work with transgender, non-binary or gender questioning students. Sadly, this guidance puts those students at risk of poor mental health and exposes them to safeguarding risks. LGBT Foundation has launched consultation response sessions where you can answer the consultation, with the guidance of LGBTQ+ policy experts. You can sign-up to the session here

Intersectionality and identity

I ask Gerry about intersectionality and how this complicates an individuals’ experience. “Individuals who face racism, transphobia, or any other form of discrimination, will be more hesitant to approach support services because they’ll be concerned about things like cultural competency or past negative experiences,” Gerry says. She describes how misconceptions of the LGBT+ community are one-sided, centred around the experiences of white, cisgender individuals. “There’s a lot of heteronormative and system bias that makes it really challenging for intersectionalist individuals to access the right resources,” she explains. We agree there is a general lack of understanding about intersectionality and multiple layers of discrimination people face. In Gerry’s view, education is key to solve this. “Education and outreach really helps to break down these misconceptions,” she says. So what can we do about it?

Advice for organisations

Part of Baltic Creative’s vision is to create inclusive and supportive environments, making our workspaces welcoming to all. I ask Gerry how an organisation like ours can succeed in this. Her advice involves moving beyond tokenism and embracing the transformative power of education and awareness. “Investing in organisational training really helps to navigate things like language and definitions,” she explains, and adds “when you start to critically engage with language, you acknowledge its power.” The use of preferred pronouns is an issue which has society divided. For Gerry, it’s simply a case of asking what a person uses. Mistakes are inevitable, she says: “if you go to Spain, no one’s expecting you to speak Spanish fluently.” Her advice is to acknowledge your mistake and apologise without making a big deal of it. 

LGBT Foundation offers an abundance of resources, including a CPD-accredited training academy. “It’s all about understanding identities, having inclusive conversations and being an ally in the right way,” Gerry explains. Their “inclusive work space module” is a one-stop shop for the kind of processes, policies and culture you should implement. “No business should be without an EDI policy,” says Gerry.

Future outlook

As we wrap-up, Gerry emphasises the importance of supporting young trans people: “we need to see what we can do as a community, both queer and not, to come together behind young trans people because the climate’s not looking great for them.” Gerry finishes by giving me a statistic from the National LGBT Survey 5 years ago. According to their results, 68% of LGBTQ+ people still feel unsafe holding hands in public. “We’ve come a long way,” Gerry says, “but that shows we still have a lot to do.”

About LGBT Foundation

LGBT Foundation is a national charity based in Manchester. Established almost five decades ago, they advocate for societal equity, envisioning a world where every individual within the LGBT+ community can thrive. The foundation supports over 40,000 individuals annually and extends its impact to approximately 600,000 more through online channels. Their Training Academy offers bespoke training, empowering people to champion LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion within their workplaces, homes and communities. They have also recently launched a Corporate Membership Scheme.

Sources of support

(c) LGBT Foundation.