Northwestern University has launched the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH), the first research institute in the United States established university-wide that is focused exclusively on LGBT health.
Sexual and gender minorities include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and gender-non-conforming people – anyone whose sexual or gender identity does not confirm to social majority categories of sexual orientation and gender.
“This new institute represents Northwestern and Feinberg’s commitment to support breakthrough research that improves the lives of LGBT people everywhere,” said Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We want to be a leader in reducing health inequalities in LGBT communities.”
The mission of the institute is to connect scholars across disciplines to create collaborations and stimulate new research that will improve the health of LGBT people across their lifespans.
“We now have an extraordinary window of opportunity to conduct innovative research on the most important health concerns and needs of LGBT populations, to train scientists and clinicians in the best practices to meet those needs and to profoundly lower barriers to healthcare and eliminate inequities in health outcomes, “ said director Brian Mustanski, PhD, associate professor of Medical Social Sciences.
The institute’s research will focus not only on understanding the drivers behind health inequities involving sexual and gender minorities, but also on developing innovative programs to address those inequities with interventions that are rigorous and evidence-based. For example, Mustanski is currently evaluating an online program he pioneered to prevent HIV that targets young gay and bisexual men, a population in which HIV infection rates continue to increase, even as overall rates in the Unites States remain stable.
“While the struggle for LGBT equality and the study of LGBT health are not new, developments during the last several years, including the exceptional increases in national and local attention to LGBT health, have laid a promising foundation for impactful and groundbreaking research, education and service,” Mustanski said.
The Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellness encompasses three programs:
- The IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program, led by Mustanski, conducts research exploring the development of sexual orientation and gender identity. IMPACT has been awarded more than $20 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and major foundations.
- The Evaluation, Data Integration and Technical Assistance Program, led by Gregory Phillips II, PhD, and George Greene, PhD, aims to be a local and national leader in the evaluation of health interventions focused on sexual and gender minorities, with an emphasis on HIV programs.
- The Complex Systems and Health Disparities Research Program, led by Michelle Birkett, PhD, focuses on understanding the complex mechanisms driving the health disparities of stigmatized populations, in particular gender and sexual minorities.
In addition, the institute plans to develop concentrations on the health of transgender and lesbian people, LGBT families, race and ethnicity, aging and the intersections of these issues.
Engaging the community is also a critical component of the ISGMH, and faculty members have partnerships with over a dozen community organizations throughout Chicago. For example, the IMPACT Program within the institute is a resident partner of Center on Halsted, a community center for LGBT people in the Chicago area. The Institute also co-sponsors, with Center on Halsted and Feinberg’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the nation’s first internship training track focused on the health psychology of LGBT people.
The institute will also disseminate research to a variety of audiences, including LGBT communities, the public at large, scholars, service providers, educators and policymakers.
The ISGMH, a University Research Center at Northwestern, is supported by the Office of the Provost, the Office for Research and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“LGBT people experience inequities in many domains of health, but we also show remarkable resiliency and cultural vibrancy,” Mustanski said. “There is much that can be learned from our community to better society.”