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Interview with Cygnet’s LGBT+ Steering Group founding member, Dr Jon Van Niekerk

This month, our services have been celebrating Pride Month with a variety of activities from fundraising for LGBTQi+ charities and raising awareness of the importance of Pride, as well as providing advice and resources around how to support members of the LGBTQi+ community. These events have sparked lots of engaging conversations between staff and service users.

As Pride Month draws to a close, Jon Van Niekirk, Group Clinical Director and Interim Chair of Cygnet’s LGBT+ Network, shares his reflections on why Pride still matters and what it means to him personally, plus an update on the work of Cygnet’s LGBT+ Network.

Jon Van Niekerk is the Group Clinical Director for Cygnet Health Care, elected member of the General Adult Faculty and Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; and a Consultant General Adult Psychiatrist. He lives with his husband in the Cotswolds with their Frenchie Juliet.

Since 2018 he has been part of Cygnet’s Senior Management Team and was appointed the Group Clinical Director in January 2020. Jon joined the LGBT+ Steering Group in the beginning of 2021 as a founding member and is the interim Chair.

The new Steering Group has only had a couple of meetings to agree an LGBT+ strategy and Terms of Reference. The network is now seeking to appoint the first elected co-chairs. The group’s main aim is to provide a voice to Cygnet’s LGBT+ community.

Why is Pride Month important and what does it mean to you personally?

Pride is a recognition of how far we have come in terms of LGBT+ rights and also a reminder of how far we still have to go to. We need to all work together to reduce stigma, discrimination and prejudice.

Pride is a colourful and exuberant way of grabbing the attention of those that might not be aware of the issues that the LGBT+ community face. It is also important to acknowledge that the LGBT+ mental health workforce comes from a diverse background and will face different struggles.

I have been more comfortable in being open about my sexuality as I have taken up more senior roles, first in the NHS and then in the Independent Sector. I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by supportive allies and colleagues at work to be able to bring my true authentic self to work and I want this for all staff at Cygnet.

What motivated you to setup Cygnet’s LGBT+ Steering Group?

I am very proud to be part of an organisation that is supportive of our diverse staff group. However, we do not work within a vacuum and many of our LGBT+ community will have been subjected to discrimination and marginalisation in the past. I am keen for us to have a safe space for LGBT+ community to discuss issues and for us to listen and reflect on how we can do more. The intersectionality of different protected characteristics are important as well.

What are the aims of group for the next year?

The group agreed that the main areas of focus for the LGBT+ Group will be to raise awareness and visibility of the LGBT+ community, influencing the organisation from an LGBT+ employee point of view and to create a supportive space and work environment.

The Steering Group will ensure there is a calendar for all LGBT+ events to increase visibility, ensure we have a safe space to share stories and personal experiences in meetings and explore Stonewall and relevant accreditation over the next year. We have used lessons learnt from other LGBT+ steering groups to ensure that we have representation of all genders in co-chairing the group.

What advice you would give your younger self?

I would tell my 10 year old self that: “You are not weird for having a crush on River Phoenix. That you are perfect the way you are and that you will find that you need to give people the benefit of the doubt in how much they are willing to love and accept you for who you are. One day you will mention your sexuality and people will not even bat an eyelid. The world is a lot more open and accepting than you feared and that a closet is for clothes.”

Best wishes,

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