Today, May 17 is IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia).
Dr Rohan Bopage, a key staff member of the Western Sydney Local Health District and proud member the LGBTQIA+ community is helping to spread the message that “we should ALL have a safe place to go for ALL health care needs”.
Dr Bopage specialises in sexual health, working at the Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre based in Parramatta.
As a proud gay man who grew up in a very conservative community back in Sri Lanka, he experienced a lot of stigma and discrimination himself growing up.
“That is one of the reasons I left Sri Lanka after university,” said Dr Bopage.
“I was lucky to move to Australia where, comparatively, the stigma is a lot less, but still, I see it; so I think that is a part of why I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping others with similar lived experiences.”
He is also a committed advocate for healthcare equity and promoting community health services to vulnerable, at risk, communities.
In sexual health services, we see many people who are marginalised in different ways; it may be their sexual orientation, gender expressions, identities and that act as barriers to accessing health care,” said Dr Bopage.
“We have a very inclusive environment in sexual health services, and we give a lot of assurance and acceptance.
“That is the key; so people feel it is a safe place.”
Dr Bopage and his colleagues work to help patients feel more comfortable with who they are, encourage them to speak up and to know their rights saying, “people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expressions still experience discrimination in the community as well as in our health setting, even though there have been considerable gains made over the years.”
“We still see it and it’s not acceptable,” said Dr Bopage
“If someone has a bad experience, we can help them to navigate the health system as every health service needs to create an environment that feels safe.”
Dr Bopage feels he works in a “hidden community”, sometimes dealing with scenarios even unfamiliar to other health workers.
“For example, a person might have sex with men or do sex work or identify as transgender and when they go to the hospital or main health settings, they might not disclose any of that because they believe that they will be treated differently,” said Dr Bopage.
This is a very genuine fear they have which is not good for them as it really restricts their access to the health service.”
When Dr Bopage was first training as a junior doctor in the UK, the sexual health clinic was buried at the back of the hospital, which he says was detrimental to raising awareness and acceptance.
However, Dr Bopage says this space is beginning to improve overtime, which he has seen in Australia.
“In Australia we accept same-sex marriage, which is one satisfying thing, but it is important to also continue to highlight and communicate the IDAHOBIT message because there is a still great deal of misunderstanding,” said Dr Bopage.
“So, for this to become more mainstream is important, as it is certainly not something to hide; that will not help.”
Dr Bopage advocates LGBTQIA+ community members to be comfortable sharing their stories and wants to spread the message “they deserve the same respect and dignity as anybody else.”