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It’s Time to Eliminate LGBTQ Health Disparities

There has been so much research dedicated to understanding and documenting LGBTQ health disparities, but this doesn’t always translate into improving health.”

Kathryn Macapagal, PhD
Associate Professor

In the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology’s new Viewpoint column, faculty at the nation’s largest LGBTQ health research institute argue that psychologists and other scientists must move beyond documenting LGBTQ health disparities and work toward eliminating them.  

Research on the health of LGBTQ populations has seen impressive growth over the past decade, driven by increased federal funding and disseminated through dedicated conferences (e.g., the National LGBTQ Health Conference) and journals (e.g., LGBT Health). Because of this research, there is robust evidence that LGBTQ people have experienced and continue to experience worse mental and physical health outcomes compared to heterosexual and cisgender people.   

It's now time to put this knowledge of LGBTQ health disparities into action, according to Brian Mustanski, PhD, and Kathryn Macapagal, PhD, of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) at Northwestern University. 

Kathryn Macapagal
Kathryn Macapagal, PhD
“There has been so much research dedicated to understanding and documenting LGBTQ health disparities, which is great, but this doesn’t always translate into improving health. Unfortunately we haven’t seen much change in most health outcomes for LGBTQ folks, and actually, we’ve seen some outcomes worsen over time. We wrote this piece as a call to clinical psychology and other disciplines to focus more on doing translational science focused on improving the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ folks,” says Macapagal, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at Northwestern. 

“We need more research on later stages of the translational research spectrum if we want to eradicate LGBTQ health disparities. This includes identifying mechanisms that cause disparities, developing and testing interventions that will improve the health of LGBTQ people, and then studying the best ways to implement these interventions to maximize their impact on the LGBTQ populations,” says Mustanski, a licensed clinical psychologist, tenured full professor at Northwestern, and director of ISGMH. 

In their Viewpoint column, Mustanski and Macapagal identify five priorities for clinical psychological science and other disciplines researching LGBTQ health: 
  1. Move toward multilevel, developmentally informed interventions aimed at cultivating health, wellbeing, and thriving.
  2. Develop and test new theories for the psychological mechanisms that link social forces to SGM disparities in physical health outcomes.
  3. Identify protective and promotive factors across the lifespan using a developmental lens that accounts for early and later life.
  4. Use mechanistic findings to inform, develop, implement, and disseminate interventions to reduce LGBTQ health disparities.
  5. Improve the educational and workplace experiences of LGBTQ scientists and trainees who can bring critical lived experience and community connections to the work.  
Brian Mustanski
Brian Mustanski, PhD

“There are some exciting exemplars of science showing the positive effects of psychological interventions that can break the association between experiencing LGBTQ stigma and poor health outcomes, but most are still in very early stages of being tested. We need to invest more in this kind of important research and then support these interventions quickly moving into widespread adoption,” said Mustanski.  

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology is the flagship clinical psychology journal of the American Psychological Association.  

“Clinical psychological science must move beyond documenting disparities in LGBTQ health toward eliminating them” is available through the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. You can access the prepublication copy here.