‘Dear Isabelle Trowler…I feel uncomfortable as a gay student on my social work course’

In an open letter to the chief social worker for children, care experienced trainee social worker Reena Syed says the profession needs specialist LGBTQ+ practitioners to ensure truly inclusive services

Rainbow flag with LGBTQ+
Photo: Kira_Yan/Adobe Stock

Dear Isabelle Trowler,

I am a trainee social worker. As a care experienced young person, I wanted to use my experiences to help others and stand up for their rights. What I didn’t expect was to feel uncomfortable as a gay student on my social work course.

I didn’t feel that I could share my experiences with my fellow student social workers because there was a lack of understanding and respect for LGBTQ+ issues. I knew that there were people on my course who did not agree with LGBTQ+ relationships and I was concerned about how they would react to me. I didn’t want to be judged or discriminated against. This in turn made me question whether these students would be able to practice in an inclusive, anti-discriminatory way.

I had not come out during my time in care or the early years of being a care leaver. However, I did live with a care leaver identifying as gay who felt they needed to hide their sexuality and relationships from their personal advisers, social workers and fellow care leavers for fear of discrimination. I have experienced care leaver social work frameworks and applications that were written solely in cisgender terms, while excluding LGBTQ+ options. This made me feel invisible.

Urgent overhaul of social work education

If we want social workers to engage in truly inclusive practice, there needs to be an urgent overhaul of social work education.

My social work course did not provide nearly enough training or resources on how to work with LGBTQ+ people. While I attended a variety of lectures on particular service user groups, such as those affected by gangs and youth violence, domestic abuse, learning disabilities and mental health, there were no lectures that acknowledged LGBTQ+ service users or covered sexuality and gender identity across the spectrum and how this is relevant for social work today.

I certainly felt that I could not openly discuss being gay or the need for greater awareness of LGBTQ+ service users.”

And it seems that the problem extends beyond my degree course. A 2014 study  by academics from America and Canada found that social work students felt they were inadequately prepared to practice with LGBTQ+ service users, especially transgender service users, reporting there was almost no trans-affirmative training in social work courses.

The low level of readiness to practice with this group highlights the importance of social work education and the desperate need to focus on including LGBTQ+ topics such as terminology, gender-based oppression, queer theory and social constructionism in its research, course work and practice.

Worryingly, a 2015 report by Stonewall the Government Equalities Office (2019) found that 57% of health and social care professionals in general, and 55% of social workers in particular, did not consider sexual orientation to be relevant to a person’s health. This is despite numerous studies indicating that the LGBTQ+ population is at higher risk of complex needs than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.

Specialist LGBTQ+ practitioners

As a trainee social worker identifying with the LGBTQ+ community, my mission is to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ service users. I aim to promote LGBTQ+ education within the fields of health and social care and make LGBTQ+ needs visible within those discourses. I want to ensure that LGBTQ+ people, young and old, always have a safe space to be themselves, people they can turn to for support, and eradicate the barriers to accessing health and social care services. To make this a reality, I believe that there should be LGBTQ+ specialised social workers.

After I graduate, I want to be an LGBTQ+ specialised social worker and go into universities to hold sessions with student social workers to educate them on LGBTQ+ service users and their specific needs. I would also like to create a collaboration bringing LGBTQ+ social workers together to raise awareness.

To ensure that universities are properly preparing student social workers to work with the LGBTQ+ population I think courses should include an assessed piece of work covering gender/sexuality/queer studies. I would also like to see social work education providers utilise external organisations such as Mermaids UK and LGBT Foundation to educate their social work students.

But there are also steps that social workers can take right now to ensure that LGBTQ+ people feel genuinely supported:

  1. Social workers can ensure that they keep personal information confidential to ensure that the service user isn’t ‘outed’ without their knowing. For some LGBTQ+ people, having their gender or sexual identity revealed against their wishes can be dangerous. The fear of being outed is one of the main barriers preventing LGBTQ+ people from accessing services.
  2. Social workers can help to encourage LGBTQ+ inclusivity within their workplaces by wearing badges that show they are allies or displaying posters or artwork like those by Stonewall to create an accepting environment.
  3. Social workers can promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity further by being aware of the heteronormative structures present in today’s society. Personalisation is key when working with the LGBTQ+ community. Using frameworks that are revised to include the specific needs of LGBTQ+ people allows for their needs to be acknowledged.

Trainee social workers have a gap in their knowledge concerning the LGBTQ+ community, leaving them unable to offer adequate support to those service users. Let’s equip social work students with the skills and awareness they need and establish specialist LGBTQ+ social workers to ensure that we are offer fully inclusive practice.


Reena Syed

Reena Syed is a student social worker and a participant in the Letters from Lockdown creative writing project run by children’s charity Coram. The project is part of the Voices Through Time programme of events for care experienced young people, exploring the history of care from 1700 to the present.

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42 Responses to ‘Dear Isabelle Trowler…I feel uncomfortable as a gay student on my social work course’

  1. Russell Kidd July 3, 2020 at 4:44 pm #

    As an out gay man on my uni course (2005-2008) I felt very let down by my university who neglected to challenge homophobia both from students and placement supervisors.

    In my first placement, I knew that my practice supervisor would not be able to accept my sexuality so I made the decision to avoid talking about it. Hiding my sexuality made meant I was not being authentic and along with the lack of support from the university it actually made me ill.

    Towards the end of the placement she knew I was holding back so I decided to tell her I am gay. Her reaction was just as I had anticipated – she was furious and wanted to fail me. Fortunately my work had been validated by other people and service users and I passed.

    The university just left me to it. It was disgusting. We had one session discussing sexual identity and the heteronormative bias in the room was so oppressive, I was shocked that these were social workers in training.

    • Reena Syed July 3, 2020 at 8:58 pm #

      Hi Russell,

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that. You should not have been treated this way.

      Thank you so much for sharing this. It really shows how much there is still to change within social work inclusivity.

    • Michelle July 4, 2020 at 8:40 pm #

      I hope you are able to educate some of those future colleagues making important life changing decisions about people’s lives.

      No one should have to be oppressed and suppress who they are and I hope that your practice brings the well needed change, and peace to your life.

  2. Concerned ASYE July 3, 2020 at 5:16 pm #

    We absolutely need education about Mermaids. Education about how much harm they as an organisation perpetuate within schools and families. About how they disregard safeguarding standards we as a profession need to uphold.

    Your gap in knowledge is clear for all to see.

    • Benji July 4, 2020 at 10:22 am #

      Completely agree. As a gay man, I would be horrified if social work education gave Mermaids a platform. Social workers need to develop an understanding of gender critical perspectives and the need to challenge misogyny.

    • Jason M July 5, 2020 at 10:46 pm #

      Please talk to parents of trans children and consider how inclusive you are of trans children’s wishes, feelings and identities before you act on this belief. My son was in contact with children’s services only briefly, but neither challenging his identity, challenging us as parents or prejudging the organisations that we turned to for support and knowledge were ever on those workers’ agendas. I am grateful for that.

      There are individuals in some organisations who are too strident in their views and will dictate and condemn rather than seek to listen and learn. They make me feel uncomfortable, and those people need challenging. I am talking about Mermaids – I have met one senior and notoriously outspoken person from there whose views were not widely shared by those in the discussion – and I am talking about you.

      Can you imagine that you would post in that tone concerning an organisation set up to support parents of any other disadvantaged and misunderstood minority?

      • Concerned ASYE July 10, 2020 at 12:09 am #

        ‘Please talk to parents of trans children and consider how inclusive you are of trans children’s wishes, feelings and identities before you act on this belief.’

        Implying I haven’t?

        ‘Can you imagine that you would post in that tone concerning an organisation set up to support parents of any other disadvantaged and misunderstood minority?’

        The stated aim and the actual actions are very different. I’m sorry you assume the worse and clearly choose to ignore the truth about the organisation.

        You assumed my distrust of mermaids is some kind of attack on all trans people. This makes me think you aren’t interested in an actual discussion.

    • Shelly July 9, 2020 at 7:19 pm #

      Unless you have a trans child, have considerable experience working with trans children or personal experience working with mermaids, I would suggest you are not in a position to make these judgements. We need to listen to the experts by experience which are the children and their families. My experiences of families with trans children have been they have found mermaids very supportive.

  3. Nicilda Bond July 3, 2020 at 5:16 pm #

    When I applied to be accepted on the social work course at demontfort university 26 years ago I was specifically asked about working with LBG people. So its shocking and very disappointing to know that we are recruiting people who hold discriminatory, oppressive views about LBG people. Shame on our profession. Its seems to have gone backwards with regard to anti oppressive, ant discriminatory, and racism practice.

    • Steph July 9, 2020 at 5:20 pm #

      Likewise – I studied at Manchester Met in the mid 90’s, and we had some brilliant and inclusive teaching about equalities and anti oppressive practice, including delivery by LGBT+ people with lived experience.

      A session delivered by a solicitor (who was himself a trans man) about the experience of trans men and women in prison, still stays with me as one of my most vivid recollections.

    • Jan D July 11, 2020 at 6:11 pm #

      Hello Nicilda
      I was one of your students at Sutton Coldfield. I learnt a lot from you about ‘treating people as I would like to be treated’. You were an inspiration to me.

      Very basic I know but anti oppressive practice should run throughout our profession whatever sexuality, gender or ethnicity a person is.

      Yes indeed, some aspects of our profession have gone backwards and ‘they’ continue to get away with it AND climb the ranks!

  4. Rose Thompson July 3, 2020 at 5:20 pm #

    It really sad in this day and age Social Work practice is not evolving with all their students. I am sure if you speak with your practice educator she may inform you about LGBT groups. I believe social work education is inclusive though as a Black Social Worker I believe there’s some structural and institutional racism within the communities and in the workplace. You have a lots to give and I would suggest you speak with the head of Social Work education.

  5. Nicola July 3, 2020 at 6:38 pm #

    I qualified in 1999 in Sussex & when, as a new group of students, we were asked to share any important info about ourselves (a getting to know you session). I shared my lesbianism – not as ‘the most important thing’ about me, but as one of the features of my life. Tutors said I was ‘very brave for sharing that’ & I was appalled at the implication of this. Brave? Why?What/where were the threats?
    There was marked homophobia in other students on my course but a big fear in the tutors of this, nothing was ever resolved. This is Sussex we are talking about, I am from Brighton. Liberal & inclusive? Don’t you believe it.

  6. Michelle Janas July 3, 2020 at 6:58 pm #

    I write as a 46yo lesbian, who is currently studying for an MA in social work.

    Whilst I am, of course, fully supportive of a curriculum that includes all of the Equality Act protected groups, we should be careful to presume that ideologies such as queer theory speak for all of the LGBTQ+ population. Whilst it is fashionable to muse on such things, I question its scholarly robustness (and application).

    I am also wary of workplace requirements, such as the wearing of badges, being used as measure of tolerance and acceptance. So-called enforced ‘virtue-signalling’ risks a hierarchical classification of the protected groups. Personally, I’m not comfortable walking into a service-user’s home wearing a rainbow lanyard, or any political paraphernalia. My commitment to the equality and acceptance of people like myself, and other discriminated groups, should not be judged by a badge. This debate also came up in a University discussion group where some students accused those who also did not want to wear a rainbow lanyard of homophobia. We need to be careful that our profession is not succumbing to woke-policing and cancel culture, as it only stokes division, and not the dialogue and acceptance we seek.

    • Carmen July 8, 2020 at 7:05 pm #


  7. Andrew Thorne July 3, 2020 at 7:09 pm #

    The principle of social workers learning more about oppressed groups is essential in the context of anti oppressive practice.

    However, the idea of using an organisation – Mermaids – who promote oppressive & regressive patriarchal stereotypes in childhood, to educate social work students is ludicrous.

  8. Soshall Wyrkah July 3, 2020 at 7:10 pm #

    I am saddened to read many aspects of this open letter. I think an increased focus is needed for any potential recruits to check – are their personal values truly aligned with the professional as a whole?? The colleagues & management you meet along the way is eye opening; ‘some’ leave even their basic ‘human’ insight at home & the more senior they are the greater the disconnect. Some SW need intense further learning & a revisiting of anti-discriminatory practice & perhaps as the world changes & adjusts, we all need a regular re-read. Best wishes from one human to another. x

  9. Jonny July 3, 2020 at 7:42 pm #

    It’s a few years since, but in 2012, when on my social work training, I was instructed by my Practice Educator to hide and, if asked, deny, my sexual orientation. They were long-arm, not part of the organisation or my university, and so my criticism reflects on neither. But it was an incredibly distressing experience. My blog and research is here if you want to know more about it, or contact me: https://jonnylovellblog.wordpress.com/

  10. Vita July 3, 2020 at 8:43 pm #

    I’ve always felt comfortable in being open about being lesbian as a social worker and have worked with many lesbian and gay social workers over the decades I’ve been qualified. I agree there is an ongoing need for social work education to be improved. I am however really surprised to see a student social worker promoting Mermaids training given the criticism and concern about its practices and policies. Safeguarding must remain paramount and I would be deeply concerned about any SW course using Mermaids training. I’m also quite stunned Community Care published this and hope to see a complementary and more balanced piece regarding the importance of training about and support for those who identify as LGBTQ taking into account the current climate of silencing women who raise questions about access to safe spaces, another vulnerable group in society.


  11. Anne-Marie July 4, 2020 at 1:11 am #

    As a member of the LGBT community, I am fully aware of the discrimination and oppression that generally exists in society and it is only to be expected that this also exists within the caring professions. I do however feel that in trying to elicit special treatment and expecting the majority to conform to us rather than attempting to examine ourselves inwards and how we can fit in with contemporary society in general, we do kothing for the general cause for acceptance. We should not have to hide or disguise who we are but neither should we expect to be able to force others not part of our community to conform with our community.

    I generally believe in live and let live. That’s a philosophy that runs both ways.

  12. Sarah Phillimore July 4, 2020 at 7:19 am #

    I am a barrister who has worked in child protection for over 20 years. I support efforts to understand and raise awareness of the challenges faced by all – it’s often too easy to judge people by your own standards.

    But I am very uneasy at any suggestion that social workers will benefit from education about ‘Queer Theory’ or ‘training’ from Mermaids. I hope if this happens, it sits along side careful consideration of all that went wrong in Re J [2016] and a continued emphasis on curiosity and polite scepticism, not wholesale embrace of what I certainly see as harmful dogma that puts children at risk.

  13. Satwinder Sandhu July 4, 2020 at 7:21 am #

    This is sad to read. As a gay man and student in the early 1990s my SW course at University of Bradford was instrumental in helping me understand my sexuality. The discussion on challenging homophobia was live and important. I’ve seen over my career since that homophobia seems to be an acceptable prejudice for SWs to carry, with the denial that that can set it aside in practice with LGBTQ people they may be working with. That’s nonsense. SW courses need to be tougher on on entry requirements and more accountable in challenging homophobia and ensure that graduating students have been supported through teaching to truly be anti-discriminatory.

  14. Ruth Olu July 4, 2020 at 7:22 am #

    It is very disheartening to hear of your experience and I hope the issues raised will be addressed and awareness should be given through some form of education.

    I am not surprised as I also had a bad experience at my university (2009-2011) being a visual and hearing impaired student.
    Some colleagues supposedly potential social workers, were quite impatient and dismissive especially when you are trying to ensure the lecture is accessible to you. Just requesting for windows to be closed to promote acoustics would trigger eye rolling or bad body language.
    You do wonder at the lack of empathy and how their future clients would be supported.

    Also the university lecturers are not really aware of the difficulties albeit the disability department tried their best.
    Receiving adequate placement support was another struggle.
    Hopefully this article will raise an awareness for these subtle discrimination and exclusion experienced by students with hidden and non hidden disabilities.
    Finally having worked in various local authorities over the past ten years has been very interesting and a daily battle.
    However I keep advocating for myself and others by continuos discussions with manager, HR for improved policies and procedures , raising awareness for colleagues at team meetings, refusing to be discouraged by bureaucracies and ensuring that we keep striving for equality legislations to be upheld.
    Learn to liaise with the DWP wp assistive support and your union as well as other colleagues with disability.

    I love my job as a social worker and hope diverse needs of students and social workers are met.

    Thus it is very important to keep giving a voice and actually practice the tenets of equality for all as stated in Equality Act 2010.

  15. DebsOUyear6 July 4, 2020 at 10:56 am #

    I would seriously hope that anyone who does not belive in total equity and inclusivity, encluding those who do not ‘belive’ in anything other than heterosexual relationships would not be employed as a social worker. Equality and inclusivity sadly, do not exist in our society. However those choosing a carier in social working need to be the nations champions striving for equality and total exceptance of all people, what ever their beliefs, race, gender, nationality, class, education and sexuality.

    As a part time student myself with the OU I have found that people are very passionate about accepting everyone and are not discriminate at all. But perhaps my experience is better than others?

    I really hope that the writer of this article moves forwards and challenges what they have experienced further. They have the experience and attitude to be a powerful and positive social worker.

  16. NotSoNewNow July 4, 2020 at 1:35 pm #

    I finished my AYSE around 2 years ago. I would say about 1/3 of the class had shockingly discriminatiry views around the LGBT+ communituy, lone parents etc and got upset when challenging about these views. Sadly some of these individuals did graduate.

    A group of us did complain to our uni about this. We were told there were looking into their selection prcress for social work. While I was at uni, the selection process for sociak work did change.

  17. Indy SW July 4, 2020 at 3:35 pm #

    Yes, absolutely LGBT+ training is important, especially to inform our practice with adult service-users.

    However, there are very complex debates taking place in wider society about the rights of transgender adults versus gender non-conforming children.

    Safeguarding must come first & as a profession we must be alive to the risks of unquestioningly implementing the policies of lobbying organisations that ignore the nuanced and emotive issues around gender non-conforming children.
    The idea of being ‘re-educated’ to ensure that all social work practice with children is ‘trans-affirmative’ perhaps does not strike the right balance & may risk professionals not being inclusive of the experiences of children whose gender identity changes at different points in their development & those children who ‘detransition’.

    There have been very recent developments In this area, such as the NHS changing it’s guidance to acknowledge the unknown long-term consequences of hormone blockers prescribed to children.
    A number of Local Authorities have withdrawn the Trans Inclusion Toolkit in recent months as a result of a challenge to how such guidance is failing to balance the rights of transgender people against sex-based rights of privacy, dignity & safety.
    There have been a number of press reports about whistleblowers at a gender identity clinics raising concerns about transitioning decisions for vulnerable children.

    These are difficult & challenging issues that professionals, wider society and the government are grappling with…
    …but then grappling with complex issues of safeguarding, identity and competing rights is nothing new to social workers!

  18. Wendy July 4, 2020 at 9:14 pm #

    I am too a social work student waiting to go into my final year and I have not had one discussion never mind a lecture on LGBT. This needs to change.

  19. Susan Dean- Founder July 4, 2020 at 11:48 pm #

    I have a question, I studied social work and the courses I took represented all of humanity. I feel the MSW at Barry University was well rounded.
    In reading this article it sounds like it is being said that all social work students should be forced to focus heavily on LGBTQ education with or without having an interest in that area.
    It sounds like this need to be an area where social work students choose to specialize which would not be as intrusive as making the curriculum heavily based on LGBTQ awareness overall, as this is not the only social issue that we are faced with across the globe.
    I love the option of having the overall social needs addressed and every student being able to choose his or her area of specialty. Whether that be family and children, mental health, gerontology, disability, health care or LGBTQ. As social workers we all have our own personal beliefs and that should be respected.

  20. M and S July 4, 2020 at 11:58 pm #

    When I first started in Child Protection about 7 years ago, I was specifically told not to mention that I was gay or even hint it. To make it worse, one of my first cases had been a young person who was coming to terms with his sexuality (and there were no services where I worked that this young person would have been able to access either). I hear (and agree!) with the arguments about overdisclosure and careful use of self within professional relationships so as to ensure we don’t project our own problems and experiences (and know this should be used with caution as it can be ammunition) but even now it remains the case that I dare not tell any family I work with that I’m gay, despite it being an important part of my identity. The more I think about it, the more I feel like such a poor ally for my own LGBT+ community of which I’m proud to be a part – my practice should be able to be LGBT+ affirmative and yet, paradoxically, I am not ‘out and proud’ in my profession which should be a beacon for conquering oppression.

  21. Angela Whitford July 6, 2020 at 8:36 am #

    I am really sad to hear this and sorry about your personal experience – which I am sure replicates what many other students are going through. I had always thought that social work was at the forefront of anti oppressive practice but it looks like we are seriously falling behind and we ALL need to take responsibility to change this – in our HEIs and in our practice. Not tomorrow but today please.

    PS I could write lots but will keep it short and simple!

  22. Natalie July 6, 2020 at 8:42 am #

    Totally agree. I have been a social worker for 8 years and felt judged by some on my course and in my teams. If I feel like that, how do service users feel? It was never covered as a topic when training, and last year was the first time voluntary training was brought in by the LA, but only those who already had an interest appeared to attend. I do hope things get better from now on.

  23. Kerry July 6, 2020 at 5:59 pm #

    There have been some very insightful and well-thought-out comments left under this article. My thanks to all who have taken the time to post their views.

  24. Louise leao July 6, 2020 at 10:03 pm #

    Any response from trowler yet?

    Sadly losing respect for the majority of so called leaders in social work. Social work england, BASW are not radical enough.

  25. Tee July 7, 2020 at 10:01 am #

    I feel that is more about reflecting on your own experience and also those of others who have other difficulties in society. Examples being those who experience racial discrimination, age discrimination, physical disability discrimination and religious discrimination to name a few. We all bring our differences to the social work profession but how can we make it inclusive for all groups of people.

  26. Antoine July 8, 2020 at 12:44 pm #

    Discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people is a daily reality and oppressive attitudes reflecting this are prevalent in social work. The reasons can be complex or simplistic. But as a 67 year old gay man in my reality least, there is no cohesive LGBTQ+ community. We live diverse lives and not all of us, be it due to disability, age, income, class, race and non-conformity to LGBTQ+ orthodoxy, fit in to a prevailing notion of what being non-heterosexual is supposed to be. We need to own that there are some truly vile expressions and behaviours in ‘our community’ too. We have to challenge and confront those who want to oppress us whatever label they choose to own. When I was a practicing social worker I often got despondent with colleagues who did not believe I was a full human being or that my experiences were joyful and sad and valid too. The intolerance of Mermaids is not the way if we want to break the social work and social worker attitudes that mis-shape our worth and values. My truth is that solidarity and comradeship prevails over bigotry.

  27. Carmen July 8, 2020 at 7:00 pm #

    Social constructionism is only a small part of the paradigms that inform social work practice. There is more to social sciences theories than social constructionism. And whilst it is true that social work mainly draws from social sciences, social work is also open to bio-psycho-social approaches and assessments. The fact that social work’s approaches diverge from the medical model does not mean that social constructivism is the answer to every question or to every LGTBQ+ matter. To understand sex and gender issues, biology is as important as social theories.

    To use the terminology above referred to is to agree with the ideas behind it. I do not use the term ‘cisgender’ as there is no reason why the term ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are invalid or incorrect. A man/woman is a man/woman, a trans man/woman is a trans man/woman. I would only use the term ‘cisgender’ out of respect for the person that I am working with, if they want to be ‘categorised’ as that, or if a trans person that I am working with refers to their male/female friends as ‘cisgender’ people and they want me to write that in their assessment.

    To support people with gender dysphoria or who identify with the LGBTQ+ community, it is not necessary to share their ideas/ideologies about gender and sex. Just like a social worker does not need to agree with the cosmovision of the people that they work with, believe their religion, or think all their choices are right.

    I do agree that the system needs to be open to acknowledge and support diversity. A person who identifies within the LGTBQ+ ‘community’ should not be getting a negative experience with the services based on the services’ inability to understand the person’s struggle and how their environment affects them. In that sense, I agree it would be great to have more information and research accessible to social workers.

    It is also necessary to know what is going on culturally regarding LGTBQ+ discussions, just like it is helpful to know about drugs if you work with someone who uses drugs, or to know about the Kurdish genocide if you are working with Kurdish people.

    On the other hand, I am also highly concerned about the lack of scientific evidence regarding the long-term effects of transitioning (transitioning through surgery and hormone therapies). To this day I have not found any conclusive research that posits surgical and hormonal transition procedures as the best way to address trans issues. As far as I am aware, no one knows for sure why gender dysphoria happens and what influences it. I do not understand either why some welfare systems fund these type of procedures.

    There are also wider discussions narrowly related to LGTBQ+ ideas/ideology. An example are the discussions about freedom of speech. Youtube video of Jordan B Peterson discussing Bill C 16 in Canada is highly illustrative, as well as the James Damore case, and the most recent controversy about JK Rowling’s tweet stating the obvious.

    As much as I hope that the services and wider society can keep working towards further inclusivity, understanding, respect, and visibility of LGTBQ+ people and issues, I also hope that social work and the wider society can continue to welcome diversity of opinions, freedom of speech, and honest discussions.

    • Leslie Smythe July 9, 2020 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi I am a mature gay woman. I completed my 2nd placement at a CAMHS team in the North West. Generally the whole experience was awful, I came close to leaving the course a few times. My practice educator was a very experienced practitioner but it was clear she either disliked me intensely or couldn’t be bothered to be any way supportive of me as a student. She openly embarrassed me in front of professionals making sideways comments such as “last time I have a student”. The real issue came when she openly mocked a nurse that came for an interview. Obviously there was no disclosure about his sexuality in the waiting room but her derogatory comments made it clear she had concluded he was gay. I couldn’t believe what she said, it was my last day in placement. At that point I will openly admit my confidence had left me completely so I couldn’t challenge her and the other professionals who laughed off her comments. I left that day without her even saying goodbye in person even though she was in the offices. I honestly feel the whole experience was so traumatic that I have never made any complaints since finishing the course. Also her behaviour was so under the radar most of the times with subtle put downs it would have been impossible to prove. I felt utterly powerless.

  28. Captain Fog July 9, 2020 at 7:14 pm #

    Social workers should reflect the diversity in society but I am uneasy with singling out any particular group as having a special case. As a male social worker I could equally argue that i was very much a minority in my group when undertaking social when training In the early 90s – and found more male students opting for the probation officer route which was linked to social work training then.

    My experience in social work has taught me the importance of not projecting my own views On to any one else’s experiences. People responses to an event or issue vary and there is a danger that social workers with personal experience of an issue may project their own views, belief on to their client and also end up using their client to fight their own agendas.

    The qualities and knowledge needed to achieve mastery and expertise in social work are not dependent on having similar experiences to the clients you are helping.

    • Carmen July 9, 2020 at 10:24 pm #

      I am no expert and God forbid I engage in identity politics, but I am not too sure being a minority in that context brings the usual hassles.

  29. Accio_enigma July 17, 2020 at 9:54 am #

    I wouldn’t agree this to be the view of all social work students. Having just finished studying at York, I have to say the teaching was brilliant. We were encouraged to constantly think outside the box. Intersectionality was at the forefront of learning. We had lively debates around identity and labelling. As a female, minority gay student, I was able to share my own experiences openly because the environment was created with focus on inclusivity and safety. Lecturers hugely enabled this.

    It seems unrealistic to ask for a huge portion of time to be dedicated to one area when there is so much to learn as a trainee, particularly on MA degrees.

  30. John Doe July 30, 2020 at 7:44 pm #

    I am an openly gay care experienced young person, and reading this superb article really hit home just how little sexuality figured in to any considerations regarding my welfare. Truth be told I had an awesome social worker who supported me a lot (and I will always be grateful to her), but the system itself completely ignores the very idea that some care experienced folk are LGBTQ+ and need specifically tailored support.


  1. ‘Dear Isabelle Trowler…I feel uncomfortable as a gay student on my social work course’ – Vulnerability360 - July 9, 2020

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