UK Doctor Who Told Gay Medics To Butch It Up Defends Herself Against Critics

A London physician who told medical students to act less gay if they wanted to get further in their careers is lashing out against critics who called her comments homophobic.

In a guide for the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Clinical Skills Assessment interviews, Dr. Una Coales (right) described one interviewee who set the gaydar off at ten paces:

One candidate was facing a 3rd sitting and yet no one had told him that his mannerism, gait, speech were too overtly gay, and that he was sitting an exam administered by a right-wing conservative Royal College.

“So I advised him to lower and deepen his high-pitched voice, neutralise the excessive body movements and walk like a ‘straight’ man.”

In an op-ed for The Independent last week, Coales, who is now being investigated by the RGCP, says she was only trying to help students avoid being subject to existing bias.

The greatest barrier to racial and sexual equality is institutional denial. Working in NHS hospitals, I learned the phrase “be a grey man”, which means don’t cause waves, don’t stand out, don’t speak up, turn a blind eye, and keep your head low. The consequence of “talking about the fight club” – in other words, racism, discrimination or selective social engineering was “career suicide.”

In the article, Coales divulges her own experiences with institutional discrimination as a young doctor:

When I applied for a job in 1994, I was asked: “who is the Captain of the England rugby team?” and “how would you feel as a mother leaving your child at home?” I was unsuccessful.

…Organisational culture tends to reflect a top-down attitude. Having difficulty advancing my career, I asked a renowned surgeon to look over my CV. He made one suggestion: delete my maiden name of “Choi”. I did and was called for interview each time.

She says the advice in her book wasn’t rooted in anti-gay attitudes but pragmatism:

Overt bias has been eliminated from College exams but there is still a risk of subconscious bias. The British Journal of Medical Practitioners 2009 asserted: “As blatant forms of racism become extinguished, unconscious racial biases in subtle forms are appearing. This occurs in people who possess strong egalitarian values, who believe they are not prejudiced, but have negative racial feelings of which they are unaware.”

Subjective bias cannot be eliminated in its entirety. My exam book thus advises doctors on how to adopt behaviour likely to reduce subjective bias; to not draw attention to anything that might distract from a pure appreciation of their medical skills. I am blunt, as many doctors may be in denial about cultural (mis)perceptions. I respect that some feel that to compromise one’s identity is wrong. I make no judgements. My advice has helped hundreds of doctors pass their exams by reducing bias and placing them on an equal footing.

Obviously Coales is a doctor, not a sociologist. So is it her job to confront homophobia and bigotry in medicine or just to help young doctors advance in their field, however that might be accomplished. Write your prescription in the comments section.


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  • ggreen

    I wonder how Dr. Coales would have taken the advice “look less Asian if you want to advance in UK medicine”?

  • Dumdum

    Sadly I have to agree. She after all was just trying to be helpful. Race, gender, sexual orientation even names and words elicit a knee jerk response. The key word being of course (jerk). It happens all the time right here in the comments section. A great example is the Mat Birk article. 85 comments in two days for a relatively unimportant homophobic jock. It is one thing if you are in fashion or the arts, flame on girl! But a professional nurse, doctor, intern, needs to be just that, professional. You can change your race like Michael Jackson or rather color. You can change your gender. You can also tone down the girly man affectations. What you cannot change is subconscious or conscious bias.

  • Jamal

    If you can do the job and do it well it should NOT matter if your mannerisms
    are masc or fem. Instead of trying to get people to change who they are, she
    should be standing up to these organizations that practice this discrimination!
    She is just as guilty as they are in a sense, because she only reinforces the notion
    rather than attempting to change it.

  • Allan

    And I assume the people who don’t agree with her logic are white males? Unfortunately, optimism in changing bias and discrimination can only go so far. We’re still living in an age where the majority of people making these types of decisions are old baby boomers who still have that notion that only white straight MALES should be trusted to do something professional.

    You can only try and change the “system” so far before hitting a roadblock such as this…and after going through all those years of school and hard work, I think it’s safe to say one would sacrifice certain characteristics to succeed in their careers.

  • Jamal

    @Allan: Does my name sound like I’m a White male to you?
    Changing bias and discrimination is dependent upon people changing their negative attitudes
    towards the LGBT community,not meeting us half way as long as we suppress ourselves.
    This is 2012 not 1950, plenty of those baby boomers have the common sense to realize that job qualification needs to be based upon skill not the sound of a persons voice or the way they walk.The one’s that don’t believe this need to follow suit and let go of their archaic primitive thinking. Giving them the right to a view point that discriminates against our mannerisms will only open the door for more discrimination,soon they will be telling us you’re gay PERIOD, so don’t come back to work.

    This woman is an idiot and I won’t support her false logic. Fight and stand up to the machine, don’t become the machine.

  • Allan

    @Jamal: Sorry – didn’t really read your name so I won’t assume you are a white male. I’m Asian and I personally have faced discrimination in the work place for acting a bit femme and being Asian and I have told my superiors about it and I have fought back. This is why I still somewhat agree with her. Sexuality and race, and even gender, still play a huge role in the workplace. It’s the unfortunate truth about people and our society. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of who you are in order to succeed in life.

  • Allan

    @Jamal: By the way, you perpetuated bias yourself by asking if I assumed you were white by your name…

  • BrokebackBob


    BINGO – you win the Tumi luggage and the all expense paid
    trip to the south of France

    Very well played sir!

  • BrokebackBob

    This so outrages me I must vent so please
    ignore the following:

    -This bitch needs to get back to the laundry and
    finish folding those white sheets with the 2 holes cut
    out just off center-

    Let’s see how my nasty outburst makes her feel.

  • Jamal

    Obviously I’m Black, lol..

    It’s not rocket science, people need to get over it and accept others.
    The only thing that should matter is if someone can adequately complete the job.
    These people make advancing in careers so difficult, I’m just gonna move to Mars.

  • mpwaite

    I see her point. The professional world of a doctor is very stressful; there are so many things you are expected to do and so may ways you’re expected to act. I would take what she said and implement it until I at least established myself. My husband is a surgeon and he told me the stories of what an intern goes through, and how their treated by established physicians. It’s NOT a piece of cake or a walk in the park kids. My partner didn’t dare tell anyone he was gay; in fact, it wasn’t until he had an established practice of his own that he came out. And then shortly afterwards I met him at a Human Rights Campaign dinner and we fell in love.. The rest as they say is History….

  • Jamal

    What difference does it make if a person is gay or effeminate? CAN THEY DO THE JOB?

    DAMN, with respect to everyone’s comments and opinions, a persons sexuality and mannerisms
    should not be the determining factor in giving them a job. This world sucks donkey balls!!!

  • jackpapa

    Of course everyone can see her point. The question is, “Does it infuriate you?” No matter how obvious the point may be, it is still wrong. She argues in favour of invisibility, in favour of medeocrity, in favour of the closet. She is wrong, regardless of the social , or ‘professional’, context.

  • l12437

    Most of the negative comments are talking about what should be, how people should react, how interviewers should react. Dr. Coales is dealing with the reality of the situation, “cutting to the chase”, and giving the best advice to those having difficulty getting a position due, not to their skills or lack thereof, but due to their mannerisms. Her goal is not to change the world but to get people into positions for which they are qualified. It may not be “PC” but it addresses the interviewee’s problems and tries to overcome them. The world is a complex place and human beings are extremely complex beings. One frequently needs to “wear” a bit different “face” for different situations. That’s life. Get over it and give the good doctor credit for trying to help those in need. In this case it’s interviewing tactics.

  • bmwblonde

    The old 60’s radical cliche does apply here: If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem. Dr. Coales probably “meant well” and was coming out of her undoubted experience dealing of having dealt, as an Aisan woman, with ridiculous white male English prejudice. But “teaching” anyone else to “work around” that prejudice, rather than confront it for the oafish, asinine, tribal garbage that it is — PERPETUATES the “system.” No sane person would “advise” a black person to “pretend” to be white, or do do step-and-fetch-it in order to “get ahead.” Dr. Coales deserves our support, to help her get past her remaining internalized Oppression damage, so that she never again “wipes” that damage on others (however “well-meaning”).

  • Jamal

    BLAH, I’d rather be unemployed I’ll never be someone I’m not to make others feel more
    comfortable in their own skin. Consequently I’ll be passed up for some dumb blonde bimbo
    or a brain dead muscle jock.

    She can take her advice and shove it, she put her foot in her mouth and now shes crying foul.

  • Allan

    @l12437: That’s basically what I was trying to say. You’ve worked so damn hard, done years and years of school, to get where you are and suddenly, you’re denied a job because you’re a little limp wristed? If that was my position, as infuriating as it is, I’d probably straighten that wrist up just so I can at least get to an established position where I can make the changes from within, rather than be shut out right at the beginning.

  • Jamal

    No I’d straighten that wrist up and slap the hell out of em!

    Everyone has different shoes to fill in life I guess. Just know saying this is okay is also saying other forms of discrimination are okay too. I would much rather have a nellie queen who was successful and hard working, than some dumb jock whos gonna screw everything up.

    They judge us so harshly and set ridiculous standards, but they are truely on the outside looking in, especially judging a person by their perceived sexuality, or mannerisms rather than abilities.

  • ChiChi Man

    Maybe it’s a Black thing lol but I’m with Jamal. I can’t imagine hiding who I am at work. I’m damn good at my job and I’ve earned enough respect to know that if I ever face discrimination, I can easily find a job somewhere else (after suing, of course).

    That said, I work in IT in a major U.S. city. Maybe the challenges are different for doctors in the U.K. But it frustrates me to hear that we can be the best, but we can’t be ourselves.

  • FreeSurf

    I totally get what some folks here like Jamal are saying with regards to fighting against the system BUT if the system over there is like it is over here in Nigeria then she’s TOTALLY correct.

    Med school over here is HELL and you have to do whatever is necessary is to make it. If you make the mistake of presenting yourself as a threat to the MAFIA ( Yes, the system of ,edicine over here is practically run by a Mafia) you NEVER succeed and make it to Consultant/Specialist level :(

  • eagledancer

    As an American Indian, I’m curious about the difference in experience for those of us who are visibly “different” (including Dr. used to be Choi)and can never hide who we are, vs. a European or Euro-American who can “hide the gay.” I was also curious about her comment that when she dropped her maiden name and assumed her husband’s non-Asian name, that she suddenly got interviews. Once the interviewers opened the door and saw a woman of Asian ancestry, did she then automatically get the job, or did she face the same discrimination in person she did when she used her original name? Certainly the fact you “sneak” (or as it used to be called in the old day, “pass”)past the fact you’re non-White, doesn’t mean you get the position once the bigots see you.

  • Alan down in Florida

    Any working environment that would ask you to suppress your true self is somewhere you will ultimately be unhappy and/or uncomfortable. If an employer can’t accept and appreciate you “as is” find somewhere else to work.

  • eagledancer

    btw–no one has mentioned patients. I’m a Family Therapist and taught a number of years in a Medical School. About 5% of the patients or clients (patients get medicine-clients don’t–it’s a billing distinction) I would treat were Native American. The vast majority of people I saw were Euro-American. One of the things that always fascinated me–I’m from a traditional family and wear my hair in braids. When I would meet a couple or family for the first session, everything would go normally. Then at the close of the session, when I had set up their next appointment and had shaken hands–only then–at the official close of the session, would they bring up my ethnicity. It was if they felt they couldn’t discuss it until we were “off the clock.”

    Also–being obviously different from most of the staff and patients/clients, I always felt to be an advantage because I could freely say, “As an American Indian, this is how we would handle this situation. Could you explain to me how you think about this?” Or–“English isn’t my first language. When you use the word ‘responsible,’ what exactly does that mean to you?” This approach tended to avoid self-defense mechanisms and allowed them to think about what they were doing, or what they valued in a different way than they were used to doing.

    My point–when you shut off an essential part of yourself, you are unable to bring your full power and ability into a situation where your actual purpose is healing. The root of the word “heal” is actually “whole.” It’s a challenge to heal others if you can’t model being whole yourself.

  • Cee

    Sounds like she was just trying to help. I’d appreciate any advice from someone who already works there as long as it’s legit advice and gonna help me get the job. Once you’re in you’re in and it’s really not in the employer’s best interest to discriminate on you after you’re hired. People file law suits today at the drop of a dime and employers know it.

  • Billysees

    @BrokebackBob: Re 9 “This so outrages…


  • balehead

    Women hate gays? cue surprise….

  • KDub

    How did I know the very first comment would have something to do with her race? Some of you queens are so predictable it’s laughable. L-O-L.

  • Aziz

    yes, what she said was insensitive and does nothing to help “fix” the system. it’s a shame that she felt that this was the only way to achieve success. but why isn’t anyone talking about if the system is broken? why aren’t folks investigating the selection committees to understand if bias exists and what forms it takes.

    the shame of all this, is that we focus all our energies on the symptoms and none one the disease. the real folks who deserve our derision, withering looks and blistering comments are the people who have the option of hiring talent, regardless of age, race or sexual orientation, but don’t.

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