Experts Discuss LGBT Health Research and Policy at ISGMH’s Inaugural State of LGBT Health Symposium

Written by Blair Turner, Research Data Analyst

The Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) at Northwestern University held its inaugural State of LGBT Health Symposium on August 18, 2016. The symposium offered the first in a yearly series connecting policy and research in LGBT health. Reflecting this mission, the symposium was attended by a diverse crowd including federal and state policy makers, academic researchers, community–based organizations, activists, and religious organizations. Illinois State Representative Greg Harris opened the symposium and stressed the importance of LGBT health research and policy.

Image description: a group shot of the speakers at the symposium standing in front of a banner for the Northwestern Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

From left to right: Dr. Michelle Birkett, Dr. Brian Mustanski, Dr. Michael Newcomb, Dr. Karen Parker, Illinois State Representative Greg Harris, and Dr. Francesca Gaiba. Photo credit: Randy Belice for Northwestern University.

Director of NIH Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office Shares NIH Research Strategies

The keynote speaker was Karen L. Parker, Ph.D., M.S.W., director of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Research office.  Dr. Parker applauded ISGMH researchers for their critical work in SGM health and expressed that there needs to be more “research hubs” like ISGMH to continue to grow the realm of SGM health research.

A photo of Dr. Karen Parker speaking to the attendees of the inaugural State of LGBT Health Symposium on August 18, 2016.

Dr. Parker speaks to symposium attendees. Photo credit: Randy Belice for Northwestern University.

Dr. Parker discussed findings from portfolio analyses of NIH-funded sexual and gender minority research. In 2015, NIH funded 301 SGM projects, resulting in 161 million dollars in total funding. Of these funds, 73% of this research was specifically about HIV/AIDS, and Dr. Parker expressed the need to promote research funding in other topic areas. She also reviewed the four goals of the NIH’s Strategic Plan to Advance Research on the Health and Wellbeing of Sexual and Gender:

  • Expand the knowledge base of SGM health and wellbeing through NIH-supported research
  • Remove barriers to planning, conducting, and reporting NIH- supported research about SGM health and wellbeing
  • Strengthen the community of research and scholars who conduct research relevant to SGM health and wellbeing
  • Evaluate progress on advancing SGM research.

ISGMH Faculty Discuss Innovative SGM Research

The second portion of the symposium consisted of a research panel: ISGMH director, Dr. Brian Mustanski, and ISGMH faculty Drs. Michelle Birkett and Michael Newcomb. The panel members gave an overview of their research being conducted at the institute. Dr. Mustanski began the panel by sharing the history of ISGMH, its vision, and mission. ISGMH was created 2015 with the vision to be an international leader in research that fosters understanding of the development and experiences of SGM individuals and improves the health and wellbeing of the SGM community.

Dr. Mustanski then gave an overview of two of ISGMH’s research programs – the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program and the Evaluation, Data Integration, and Technical Assistance Program (EDIT). The IMPACT program conducts translational research that improves the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and increases the understanding of the development of sexual orientation and gender identity, with a focus on youth. EDIT is currently working with Chicago organizations conducting HIV intervention programs to provide technical assistance, thereby allowing them to conduct rigorous evaluation of their own programs.

Next, Dr. Michelle Brikett gave an overview of the program she directs, Complex Systems and Health Disparities Research (CSHD) Program. Research in this program takes a broader systems prospective to understand SGM health disparities and elucidates the complex mechanisms driving the health disparities in SGM. CSHD is currently developing innovative methods and software to capture network data. Dr. Newcomb concluded the panel with a presentation about his 2GETHER intervention, which provides a new approach to integrating primary and secondary HIV prevention in young male couples.

Sparking Interdisciplinary Conversations

Image description: The photo is of the reception at the symposium. The main focus of the photo is five attendees standing in a line smiling and posing for the photo. In the background, other guests are milling about.

A group of symposium attendees at the reception. Photo credit: Randy Belice for Northwestern University.

The symposium concluded with a reception giving attendees the opportunity to network and continue their dialogue and connect across disciplines and organizations. Some attendees shared their thoughts on the symposium. Roberto Lopex-Rosado, D.P.T, M.A., said a “conversation about disparities needed to happen and was very informative.” Gabe Wise, from the Mental Health Services and Policy Program at Northwestern stated, “The symposium provided a great overview about LGBT health projects both at the NIH and ISGMH. I learned a lot of great information, and I look forward to seeing how to implement LGBT health in my own work.”

Visit the event photo gallery.

Read related articles in the Windy City Times and from Feinberg School of Medicine.