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For Lesbian Visibility Week 2024, the NHST celebrates one of its patrons and ongoing supporters, the wonderful Flick Thorley.

A former HIV and psychiatric nurse, Flick was born in New Zealand, and trained there before moving to the UK in 1989. We take a look at Flick’s involvement with HIV and AIDS care, and talk to her about visibility and activism.

A full-length filmed interview with Flick is available in the NHST archive at LMA, and a short-form telling of her story is included in the NHST book and podcast series, ‘Love, Loss & Life’. 



Flick was first drawn to nursing after a chance visit to a psychiatric hospital where a friend’s sister worked. “I’d never seen anything like it, and I thought it was just amazing. I found it fascinating.” Deciding to train in the field, it was while a Student Nurse that she first cared in a professional capacity for a patient with HIV. A young man, acutely psychotic and schizophrenic, was diagnosed with HTLV-3, as the HIV virus was originally known. Though the staff did their best to care for him, it was the early days of the epidemic and with no knowledge of the disease or protocol for treatment, caring for an individual with such complicated psychiatric and physical health needs was scary and difficult. Flick remembers the fear and stigma surrounding his care, with staff in “masks and gowns and gloves”, and his room labelled as infectious. In a personal capacity, Flick was also seeing people from the lesbian and gay communities she was involved with in Auckland experience HIV first hand. 

After qualifying as a psychiatric nurse, Flick followed a friend to London in 1989, intending to stay for just a year. But the city and its vibrant LGBTQ+ community captivated her and she never left. Flick became a Charge Nurse on an acute psychiatric ward at University College Hospital (UCH). During her time on this ward, a patient suffering from severe psychiatric issues caused by an HIV illness was transferred from the Broderip Ward, the specialist HIV ward at the Middlesex Hospital. This incident highlighted a complex problem in HIV and psychiatric care for Flick, and was a catalyst for her life to become intertwined with the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Wards specialising in acute medical needs had no facilities to deal with acute psychiatric needs, or vice versa. Flick’s compassionate approach at the time helped to calm the patient, but it was clear the psychiatric ward was not equipped to handle his complex physical and mental health needs. Flick knew then that she wanted to focus specifically on HIV care. Having learned about the London Lighthouse, the world’s largest care centre for HIV patients when it opened in the late 1980s, Flick waited for a job opening. She soon got her opportunity, starting as a Staff Nurse before becoming a Charge Nurse. Flick worked on the ‘Res Unit’ at London Lighthouse until it closed in 1998. Following that Flick was the HIV Psychiatric Liaison Nurse at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital until 2011.


Flick’s unwavering presence as an openly lesbian nurse during the crisis was a powerful act of visibility at a time when many in the LGBTQ+ community were forced to hide. While the epidemic devastated the community, it also galvanised them. Flick embraced her identity, as she had since coming out in Auckland as a young woman, and used it to forge deep connections with her patients. Lesbians including Flick could be seen at the forefront of the fight and changing the  way those affected were cared for. “It was just there was nowhere else I would work, there was nothing else I would do. Because it was about my people.” 

The nursing teams she had been part of in both New Zealand and the UK were largely lesbian women and gay men, all out about their sexuality, and she speaks fondly of them as “amazing tight teams of friends who worked really well together doing difficult jobs”. Flick has felt fully “embraced” as a lesbian throughout her adult life, and notes that she was lucky to have great lesbian role models from early on in the shape of friends and nursing tutors. Juxtaposed with this was an experience Flick and her wife Professor Chloe Orkin had when they were seconded to Botswana in 2002 for six months to establish an HIV antiretroviral programme. With homosexuality illegal in Botswana, Flick and Chloe could not be open about either their sexuality or relationship. Essentially forced back into the closet, the couple could not make friends or be honest with those closest to them. This highlights the stark contrasts in experience that lesbian women can face in terms of visibility. 

Lesbian Visibility Week uplifts incredible LGBTQIA women and non-binary people from every generation, in every field and in every country around the world. Flick’s unwavering commitment to HIV and AIDS, her compassion, and her unapologetic embrace of her identity are worthy of much celebration, and we are incredibly proud to have her as one of our patrons. Now retired, Flick volunteers with her dogs, offering pet therapy in hospices and hospitals. The legacy of her time in nursing lives on, a reminder of the power of visibility and the transformative impact that individuals such as Flick have had on the world. 


Your generous support helps us to secure, preserve and protect the stories of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. In doing so, we can ensure the stories continue to be retold to younger generations, including through the arts and education.

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