Emilia Dunham Program Associate of Network for LGBT Health Equity Reporting from Intersectionality Working Group meeting of LGBT Population Research Center The Fenway Institute, Boston, MA
Panel 3: Future Research and Policy
It was really exciting to sit in on the afternoon session of the Intersectionality Working Group meeting of the LGBT Population Research Center. There was a fantastic conversation on intersectionality among several researchers discussing bisexuality in public health research, LGBT communities of color and domestic violence, and transgender inclusion in data collection.
First, Dr. Wendy Bostwick (of Northern Illinois University) spoke about her expertise in bisexual research. Particularly she addressed the need to look at the bisexual community as different than gay/lesbian. Some of the specifics she raised in her conversation were:
“What does bisexual stigma mean for public health?”
“Considering comparison of lesbian and bisexual women with gay and bisexual women, how does that affect health outcomes?”
The answer to the latter question may be less availability of social support for bisexual people than for gay/lesbian folks. There may be a common assumption that bisexual people are much more privileged than gay/lesbians in social and healthcare settings. Contrary to that assumption, health outcomes of bisexual people are actually worse in many areas, so perhaps there are psychological barriers that affect bisexual health disparities unknown to us at this time.
Second, Shawn McGuffey (Boston College) shared the intersectionality of race, sexuality, class and domestic violence (DV). From media to academia, there is a public narrative about how you do “gayness” but there is no sexual script for bisexuals. Even when those sexual scripts are narrow, at least there is some sort of roadmap for gays/lesbians. Furthermore the script for LGBT People of Color (POC) is even weaker and our knowledge of DV in these communities suffers.
From studies we know domestic violence is the same for gay/lesbian couples as heterosexual women. Given that, how do we account for this and how do we consider the phenomenon of race and class. There is much more mutual violence in gay/lesbian relationships then the general population, so how do we provide services if we can’t understand it?
With sexual assault, conservative rates reveal 14-18% prevalence of rape experience among LGBT people. Therefore the intersectional benefits are so important as they consider switching from “why” versus “how”. Prevalence of interpersonal violence has good data but we don’t know how it happens, under what conditions, how to prevent it and how to better serve. We need to move from a gender to a power model, and we need to understand intersectionality of race, class since LGBT POC have more interracial relationships than any other group.
One of the most important practical considerations to take home is:
Which policies help all LGBT communities and which do not?
Finally our own Scout talked about some of the policy issues impacting intersectionality research right now. First he strongly encouraged the researchers at the table to add gender identity to their studies and surveys because by excluding it we tell national surveys and other researchers not to include gender identity in their surveys. Scout talked Jessy Xavier’s Gender Variance Model as one way to consider how sexual orientation and gender identity overlap in the field, and how what we label as homophobia might actually be gender discrimination.
Scout emphasized that for LGBT health and intersectionality overall, we’re at a time of real opportunity. It’s really a time where we as researchers should loose ourselves from the constraints of “what we were allowed” and think “what is just”? Then, we need to speak out when we see discrimination against us as researchers, because now is a time when people are trying to change that history. For instance, Health and Human Services (HHS) officials are asking us, “where at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is there a problem accepting LGBT research”? One researcher in the room brought up an issue with NIH review forms, which don’t allow an option to say the study focuses on transgender people, only male or female. That’s a good example of what we can give feedback to HHS about. Scout also talked about the importance of mentoring researchers, and for intersectionality research, we might need to find ways to mentor before the graduate school level, because too many promising students have their prospects cut short before graduate school. For example, he noted he’s one of only two or three transgender PhD level health researchers in the country. And of course, Scout talked about the lack of data and prospects for changing it. Scout noted the most likely source of LGBT of color data, according to the researchers assembled for the LGBT of Color Sampling Methodology report, is consolidating data across several state’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys. So, one local advocacy opportunity is to work with your state to ensure LGBT measures are added to your BRFSS.
As you know the Network has been advocating for these inclusions through some of our Action Alerts. Another way the Network has done this is by advocating CDC to include health disparities (specifically LGBT) in new RFAs. Also be sure to check out some of our other policy papers on data inclusion, such as the one prioritizing datasets to add LGBT onto, and the overview briefing paper about methods. If you want to get alerted about LGBT health advocacy opportunities directly email firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Advocacy” in the subject line.
The last hour or so of the day was spent brainstorming followup and possible joint projects by the participants. We’ll let those unfold when they do. The closing comments again showed just how much the participants really appreciated this opportunity to get together and share. Many people were effusive about how valuable the meeting was, if anything the biggest refrain was “more time!”
Congratulations to Judy Bradford and Aimee VanWagenen at the The Fenway Institute’s LGBT Population Center for convening this fabulous meeting, to Ilan Meyers and all the others who helped organize it, and to Phoenix Matthews for standing up and saying we needed it. Job well done all!