Compassion is more than just cute and can be seen in many different ways. Philosophers, religious leaders and scientists from different parts of the world have discussed the meaning of compassion in their own context. It can be described as distinct emotionvirtue or way of life that recognizes the pain and suffering of others. Compassion can be a remedy self healing and feeling our common humanity.

But compassion is also an action:form of interaction with the world“. Compassion can positively influence transform social systems or an opportunity to reinforce current beliefs that can divide people.

Some even criticized the concept of compassion, especially from a Western perspective, as self-centered emotion and leads to self-comparison with others.

There is a growing recognition in Western health systems that compassion is an essential component of good health and well-being. There were calls for compassion be a larger part of the healthcare worker care processes and training of medical workers.

Researchers have shown that only 40 seconds of compassion have made positive changes in the experience and health of patients. During these 40 seconds, compassion can be expressed by acknowledging the patient’s concerns, showing support, acting as a partner, and acknowledging emotions.

Compassion and Health Care for People 2SLGBTQ+

People in medical gowns march in a parade with a banner reading
Heteronormativity and cis-normativity can create differences in the health status of people with 2SLGBTQ+, as well as hinder access to safe and inclusive care.

However, accessing and receiving compassionate health care is often not possible for many groups, including bi-spiritual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual identities such as pansexuals or asexuals (2SLGBTQ+).

heteronormativity – the assumption that all people are straight – and cis-normativity – the assumption that all people are definitely either male or female – creates a set of differences in the health status of people 2SLGBTQ+. They also create barriers access to safe and inclusive care.

Heteronormativity and cis-normativity can lead to fear, ignorance, prejudice and acts of violence against 2SLGBTQ+ in Canada. Studies have shown that learning about these topics while training healthcare professionals is helpful, but doctors report lack of advanced knowledge on 2SLGBTQ+ issues. Yes growing recognition of the need additional health education 2SLGBTQ+ and increased funding for health research 2SLGBTQ+.

Transformational Compassion Research

The aim of our upcoming study, which will be published in the journal Qualitative Health Researchwas to explore the meaning of compassion for 2SLGBTQ+ people.

In our research conducted at Mount Saint Vincent University, we spoke to 20 self-identified 2SLGBTQ+ people from across Canada. In an online interview, we asked them to share their experiences of compassion (or lack of compassion) and tell us about their beliefs and values ​​about compassion. Many of the things our members shared were about compassion and health.

In our findings, we explored the meanings and expectations of compassion in healthcare for our participants. As one of them said: “Good health care must be based on compassion.” Some of our participants noted that comfort, safety, inclusive language, and awareness and understanding of the common trauma many 2SLGBTQ+ suffer from are important components of compassionate healthcare.

Compassionate medical care is not guaranteed

Another participant believed that when… you get access to the health system, you expect compassion from the health system. I know many people, homosexual or not, who do not have this experience. Compassion is not guaranteed in healthcare, but when it is found, it is celebrated“.

For example, this participant described their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic when their doctor showed them compassion by including their partner:

“COVID has brought this huge experience of shared humanity among a wide variety of people… a lot of compassion has been shown in those first few months that we are all together.”

Compassionate Comics

We wanted to share the beliefs and experiences expressed in the study to start a conversation about compassion and work to raise awareness of the power of compassion to positively impact life, health, and well-being. We have previously used comics as a means share our researchand decided to do it again.

To create our compassionate comics, we have enlisted the talents of 12 2SLGBTQ+ artists from Canada, the US, the UK and Greece. We asked each of them to illustrate the stories told by our participants.

For example, several participants used the HIV/AIDS crisis as a historical example of how ruthlessness in the healthcare system and the power of compassion to change systems.

Illustration of people with homophobic signs
An excerpt from the comic strip “Remember” by David Winters showing the hatred and stigmatization often faced by people living with HIV and AIDS.
(David Winters), Author provided

As one participant said:

“When I was 20, the AIDS crisis was in full swing, and while I ultimately think it drew compassion from the general public, there was a lot of negativity at the time. Many accusations of people, accusations of behavior. Lots of religious nonsense. So things changed over time, and I think the media had a lot to do with it. And the organization of the queer community during the AIDS crisis – and more visible, I think – has made people more humane to the general public in a way that wasn’t there before.”

Cartoon illustration of a nurse and a patient in silhouette in a circle.
An excerpt from the comic “Remember” by David Winters, showing the nurse’s compassion.
(David Winters), Author provided

This story is reflected in a comic called “Rememberby Canadian artist David Winters. In the 10-page story, a nurse walks to work through a crowd of anti-gay protesters outside her hospital. She shows compassion for the dying person by listening and showing understanding to them when others did not.

An illustration of an elderly woman sitting on a bench and looking at a group of men, with the caption:
An excerpt from the comic “Remember” by David Winters.
(David Winters), Author provided

Our survey results reflect only a few voices from the 2SLGBTQ+ umbrella, so we cannot make sweeping generalizations. However, we can assume that compassion was seen as a central and critical component of good care.

We suggest that to truly transform healthcare, we must explore and challenge assumptions about sexuality and gender in healthcare practices and systems. This will help all people to feel comfortable, safe, and understood—in other words, compassion.

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