Alumni Pride Profile - Lewis Thomas
To me, Pride means unapologetic authenticity and visibility. The LGBTQ+ community is actually quite an elusive concept to describe as it encompasses so many different people with so many different experiences. But at its core, for me, the LGBTQ+ community represent unity in the face of adversity.
Why did you choose to study Global Health at Queen Mary? I was fascinated by science, biology and health, but I also wanted to study something which would equip me with the knowledge and skills to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives, especially the most marginalised in society. Studying Global Health, with its unique mix of public health, biology, sociology and politics, allowed me to do so.
What does your role as NHS General Management Trainee at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust involve? The NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme is a fantastic graduate-entry programme which gives you first-hand experience of healthcare management whilst allowing you to further your academic studies with a postgraduate degree. I work in the Office of the Medical Director at Imperial College Healthcare and have been involved in all sorts of initiatives. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been principally working on projects to support our staff and patients, such as our staff SARS-CoV-2 testing programmes and some wellbeing initiatives.
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? My degree allowed me to learn a great mixture of public health skills and theoretical understanding, whilst also impassioning me about causes of injustices. Learning about the social determinants of health in my first year, I will never forget how angry I felt about global inequality and my burning passion to do something about it. The combination of these factors left me well equipped for a career in healthcare.
Could anything else be done to help other members of the LGBTQ+ community feel included at Queen Mary (staff, students and alumni)? I was not openly ‘out’ to any of my university friends during my undergraduate degree, so I wasn’t involved at all in the LGBTQ+ community at Queen Mary. During final year, being a ‘closeted’ gay student during an already stressful time full of assessments and exams was really tough. So looking back, it would have been useful for me to have known more about the mental health services available to all LGBTQ+ students.
What does Pride mean to you and why do you think it is important to celebrate it? To me, Pride means unapologetic authenticity and visibility. The LGBTQ+ community is actually quite an elusive concept to describe as it encompasses so many different people with so many different experiences. But at its core, for me, the LGBTQ+ community represent unity in the face of adversity.
How will you be celebrating Pride this year given the restrictions due to COVID-19? With the global Covid-19 pandemic and the current events in the USA and beyond highlighting the appalling injustices felt by so many, in all honesty I don’t really feel like celebrating. Instead, now more than ever, I hope the rainbow flag will underline our collective diversity and the richness this brings to society.
What do you think still needs to be done to give greater equality and representation to the LGBTQ+ community? I feel fortunate to live in a country which is relatively progressive, but LGBTQ+ issues are still distinctly controversial, characterised by oppression and fear. According to the Human Dignity Trust, 73 countries still criminalise private, consensual same-sex activity, with 12 implementing the death penalty. There is a long way to go to liberate LGBTQ+ people and create societies accepting of all people no matter their sexual identity. Many say that the first Pride was the Stonewall Riots, and that’s why I feel Pride is still so poignant in today’s landscape. Visibility and unity play a key role in hopefully, one day, ensuring LGBTQ+ people everywhere can live authentically without fear.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Choose a career that genuinely excites you – you’ll probably spend most of your life working, so it’s important to enjoy what you do! For LGBTQ+ students, myGwork can be a great platform for professional networking, to find opportunities and access mentoring.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? For me, my friends made university a truly fantastic experience. In first year, I lived with some wonderful dental students and we quickly became one big family. I also made some truly amazing friends on my degree, who I later lived with, and now I genuinely cannot imagine my life without them. From an academic perspective, a real highlight was when I published an article with the director of my degree programme in my second year. It was great to work with such a thoughtful and accomplished academic, and I felt proud to have a piece of work to publicly put my name to.
What words of advice would you give to someone who might identify with the LGBTQ+ community but who is too scared to openly declare their sexuality for fear of what others might say/think/do? Never let yourself feel pressured to come out, by yourself or anyone else. Everyone is in a different situation and it is really important to do what’s right for you. No matter your identity, and irrelevant of whether other people know how you identify, you are valid and you do not need approval from anyone else to tell you so. Being LGBTQ+ and in the closet is really challenging, so please don’t be too hard on yourself. And if you do want to come out, go for it!