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LGBT Population Research Center Mtg on Intersectionality – part 3

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.

Dr. Wendy Bostwick

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.

Dr. Shawn McGuffey

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?

Dr. Scout

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 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!

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Presentations | 2 Comments

LGBT Population Research Center Mtg on Intersectionality – part 2

Director of Network for LGBT Health Equity
Reporting from Intersectionality Working Group meeting of LGBT Population Research Center
The Fenway Institute, Boston, MA

Panel 2 – Methodology for Intersectionality Research

Kimberly Balsam, PhD

Mignon Moore, PhD

Juan Battle, PhD

Brian Mustanski, PhD

Kimberly Balsam starts by laying out some challenges in each stage of the research (sampling, measurement, analysis, interpretation). She talks a bit about two different research projects she’s been finishing, the Rainbow Project and the Rainbow Women’s Health Survey. At least one study is still being published so I won’t talk about the findings as much, but instead focus on her methods. First, each study was mixed methods, combining a few strategies to get to the people they wanted to recruit. Respondent-driven sampling was used (one of the shiny stars of rare population research) as well as targeted sampling. There was an interesting subdiscussion here on interviewing, one researcher talked about a project where they used community members instead of graduate students to do the interviews, then even further, allowed the participants to choose their own interviewers. They found that most of the participants (all Black), chose sex and race matched interviewers. But African and Afro-Carribean interviewers were more likely to request white interviewers. Another research project was brought up where Black men in prison were being interviewed, and while they presented as heterosexual to the heterosexual interviewer, it all changed once the gay researcher got in the room. Everyone agrees, the researcher affects the data, but we don’t have enough information on how.

Next we get to see some advance results of Juan Battle’s national LGBT of color survey, named Social Justice Sexuality project. Like Kimberly, he used mixed methods for his sampling: quota sampling, venue sampling, snowball sampling, respondent driven sampling, the internet and partnering with a “whole host” of community based organizations. He worked for a year and a half to set up the partnerships. Then, they went to every different type of event imaginable, festivals, parties, special events, prides, rodeos, dinner parties, the choir directors caucus at the National Black Baptist Convention, everything they could find. Face it, “mixed methods” hardly describes the breadth of the methods, seems like it’s more like “every method you’ve ever heard of”. The result? Over 5,000 respondents. So what about findings? Well, I won’t say any results because they’re still coming out. But he brought up an interesting methodological point. Usually when you ask about importance of racial identity v. sexuality you get 90% of your sample saying, “no real diff”. So he approached this question differently, he asked “how important is your sexual identity?” in one part of the survey, then in a very different part “how important is your racial identity?” Fascinatingly, suddenly most of the sample said either race or sexuality was more important.

Now onto Mignon Moore, who I gotta give a big shout to because she was one of my dissertation advisors, w00t! She’s done a series of research studies on Black lesbians that are coming out in a new book very soon, Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships, and Motherhood among Black Women. Again, what’s our theme? Mixed methods! Not only in recruitment but in data collection too. She talked about the particular value of surveying all of her sample but supplementing it with in-depth interviews for half, allowing greater exploration of the survey results. She has an interesting (and time saving) take on researching intersectionality: instead of comparing across race or gender categories, analyze the experiences of the people who live at those intersections. She asked questions about primacy of identity like Juan did and that brought up some interesting information: one identity can be used for self-definition, but a wholly different one can be used as a status that helps a person stick with a particular group.

The panel was rounded out by Brian Mustanski, who’s been working on a project with LGBT youth of color in Chicago. He’s really interested in the question of whether resiliency about race can be transferred to become resiliency about homophobia, but of course explores a lot of intersectionality on the journey to that goal. Again our theme, the study used mixed methods. They started with a survey (using the Race Coping Measure), added psychiatric interviews, mental health self reports, then specifically added open ended qualitative questions both at enrollment, and then again at one year followup. His discussion of the analysis was interesting, to integrate the different types of data collection, they ended up using a qualitative coding scheme for the whole project, to try to bring up themes across the different datasets. And he brings us right back to our theme from the first session, it’s all about context. When they asked about race they heard about neighborhoods, when they asked about neighborhoods, they heard about race, so in some cases, context really defines the issue.

Lisa Bowleg sums it up: “To do intersectionality research, you really have to do mixed methods research”. She challenges us to go further, incorporating more disciplines in the research braintrust, go to the economists to see what neighborhoods to study. But mostly, don’t get stuck on methodological limitations. We really are pioneering some interesting research strategies as each of us draws from our different resources to create our own particular mix of methods.

David Chae rounds out the discussion by bringing up the elephant in our room… we need more general population surveys to include measures of sexual orientation and gender identity. Hear hear, we don’t count until we’re counted!

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

LGBT Population Research Center Mtg on Intersectionality – part 1

Scout, Network Director
Reporting from the Intersectionality Working Group Meeting
of the LGBT Population Center at The Fenway Institute
Boston, MA

Meeting Background

The Fenway Institute has another really cool project (in addition to ours), the LGBT Population Research Center. This is the first federally funded population research center that focuses on us. It’s a really fascinating concept where the Center works to help convene and support LGBT population researchers to share information and grow new collaborative research projects. I’m lucky enough to be a faculty member, so I get to go to those cool meetings that bring the researchers together to confab and plan. I’ll tell you, they’re always valuable, there’s nothing like an occasional face to face to really jump ideas forward. So now, how does that lead us to today? Well, at a recent population center meeting Ilan Meyer and our own Steering Committee member, Phoenix Matthews, both started talking about the issues related to LGBT research on race and ethnicity. This germ of an idea has now grown into a specially convened meeting on Intersectionality. So now we’re here in the room with about 25 LGBT researchers who’ve specialized in research on LGBT race, ethnicity, or other facets of intersectionality. You know we’re all about sharing information here at the Network, so let me see if I can speedtype and try to give you a birdseye view of the meeting. Excuse these longer than usual posts, but there’s an amazing amount of expertise in the room and this is a too rare type of gathering to let the discussion float off into the ether.

Just a note, within the first twenty minutes alone it was clear the meeting was exceptional, the excitement was palpable. In the words of one researcher “I’m literally choking up because I’m so happy I’m not the only Black researcher in the room.”

Caution High Gobblygook Ahead: While we tried to translate into plain language, there’s no escaping this was a dense scientific meeting.

Lisa Bowleg, PhD

Margaret Rosario, PhD

Panel 1: Theoretical Conceptual Issues for Intersectionality

Panelists: Lisa Bowleg, Hector Carrillo, David Chae, Margaret Rosario, Bianca Wilson

Hector Carrillo, DrPH

Bianca Wilson, PhD

The day kicks off with a rapidfire panel asking “What is Intersectionality?” “Who should be involved?” “How does it help us think about LGBT health?” Perfect for me, because I think I’m a bit weak on question 1, what is intersectionality? David Chae gives the definition below. He notes that it’s traditionally been interpreted as being the study of the intersections of race and gender.

Intersectionality: Traditionally used to describe a structure of interlocking oppressive systems.

Lisa Bowleg frames it up fast, “We’re not interested in identities alone, we’re interested in social justice and power.” “And so often, data we get doesn’t help us. I’m looking at the Census tables and I’m looking for intersections, and I just get the table on Blacks or on women. That doesn’t help me.” As David says, intersectionality is really about disentangling that “Matrix of Oppression”, in some cases social identities may be more important than others and intersectionality between them may be more or less relevant.

David points out that identity is both internally adopted and externally ascribed. There’s some evidence that the externally ascribed identity might impact people more than internally ascribed for both race and sexuality. (In plain talk: what folk think you are might affect you more than what you think you are.) “Disease emergence is a socially produced phenomena” -Paul Farmer. David has some great graphics showing how socially oppressive systems, group identity and discrimination all feed into health outcomes.

Margaret Rosario uses an interesting term, she asks “How are identities arranged? Does this give us information about their health?” Some people arrange their identities hierarchically. They are usually ranked in importance by a few factors: “salience or likelihood of being activated by others”, individuals own subjective basis, or temporal grounds. What are temporal grounds? That might be something that is designated in certain contexts, like a researchers deciding “you may not identify as ____, but I think you belong in that group.” Now we can consider identities as intersecting, like in a venn diagram, but we could also consider them as nesting, so we need to explore intersectionality as one possible model.

Bianca Wilson talks about how she sees intersectionality as potentially three different constructs. She’s done a lot of work exploring these contexts with black lesbians. First, it’s the Matrix of Domination (I want to get that slide). Where the “holy trinity” of oppressive factors (race, sex, class) interact with other factors like fat-based sizeism, and heterosexism. All stand alone, plus potentially interact with each other, each independent unit or interaction flowing into the total health of a person. There where some interesting discussions here about a threshold effect in discrimination. There have been studies showing white people react more poorly to adverse incidents than people of color, the hypothesis is that experiencing something more routinely raises your threshold of tolerance. But what other effects does it have? Second, intersectionality represents interlocking sources of socialization. You are both socialized and trained by the different communities you’re affiliated with, that socialization often builds resiliency and sets standards for what is “routine”. Third, intersectionality represents multiple community affiliations, the different current social experiences you have continue to build your health context all throughout your life.

Hector Carrillo talks a bit about the potential pitfalls of intersectionality. According to him, as we explore this we run the risk of essentializing the sexuality of the people we’re studying. He worries that essentializing the sexual culture within these communities is the same phenomena that has led to the ‘othering’ of LGBT people of color too often. (cripes he talks fast) He also says, when we study the multiple lines of oppression, we run the risk of exaggerating their overall impact. We know people display amazing resiliency, that’s hard to measure. He cautions that to use intersectionality as a frame, we need to not only look at oppression, we need to really look at the different contextual factors. He’d like to suggest that we can approach research and programming not by directly asking about identities, that we instead ask about their lives, and look at the emphasis areas, then do the analytical work to see what is relevant to them in different contexts. Juan Battle heartily agrees “I really like the idea of adding intersectionality on the back end, because otherwise, it’s kinda like asking a fish to describe water. You can’t do it because you’ve never been out of it.” Lisa Bowleg also concurs, “The onus is really, really on the analyst for intersectionality. Data do not stand on their own, they have to be interpreted. The analyst has to have a voice in this work.”

Margaret really sums it up, “The body and the mind remember, we may forget the many insults to us, but the body and mind remember, and those memories can be activated when they get to a certain threshold.

Whew, and that’s it, time for a break. Back with more later!

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment


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