Research Projects

Stimulating research in new directions in LGBT health and population research is at the heart of the Center’s mission. The science of LGBT population research has been recently jumping over the hurdles that have stymied progress in the past. For example, innovative research methodologies have been devised and implemented to meet the challenge of sampling LGBT people, many of whom have historically been hard to reach. Further, new technologies allow study designs that better protect participant privacy—an especially pressing concern for many in this population.

Selected current and recent research projects of Center-affiliated scientists:

  • Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) in LGBT Older Adults. Judy Bradford and Aimee Van Wagenen are members of the Massachusetts LGBT Aging Needs Assessment (M’LANA) Coalition, a group of researchers and organizations with an interest in improving health and well-being for LGBT elders. M’LANA’s major goals are to better understand and document the unique needs of LGBT older adults, including their vulnerabilities and sources of strength, and to develop programs and services to better meet these needs. Adoption of the principles of CBPR in M’LANA ensures the involvement of sexual and gender minority older adults and communities in the coalition’s work to increase its relevance and sustainability. The group is developing an ongoing agenda for research and has launched two important projects: 1) a qualitative formative study of health, social networks, community engagement and interest in participating in research among LGBT older adults in greater Boston and 2) a survey research project assessing social support, social isolation, and readiness to engage in services for older adults among heterosexual and LGB older adults who attend congregate meals in greater Boston. The Fenway Institute was recently awarded a grant from the Lesbian Health Fund to support the survey project. More information can be found at The Fenway Institute website here and here.
  • YRBS Data Pooling Project. A project led by Brian Mustanski and the Center’s LGBTQ Youth Working Group, the YRBS Pooling Project combines data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) to create a larger pooled sample of sexual minority youth. The pooled data set will be made available to Center researchers for collaborative analysis. YRBS are conducted every two years by state, territorial, and local education and health agencies in conjunction with Center for Disease Control (CDC). These probability surveys are representative of public high school students for the jurisdiction in which they are conducted. The surveys cover six categories of health-risk behaviors: behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity. The YRBS are of particular interest to LGBT health researchers who study adolescents. While the CDC’s core questionnaire does not contain any measures related to sexual orientation, states and districts have the option of adding additional questions to the CDC core questionnaire. Several states and districts add sexual orientation measures among their additional questions. The pooling project will merge data sets from these states.
  • Healthy People 2020 Advocacy. The Center teamed with The National Coalition for LGBT Health and other partners to advocate for LGBT inclusion in Healthy People 2020 (HP2020). Thanks to the efforts of many, HP2020 now includes a topic area in LGBT Health! (See the LGBT page on the HP202 website.) The Center’s efforts included 1) providing public comment to encourage LGBT inclusion (more information can be found on The Fenway Institute website) and 2) producing scientific briefs on the state of the LGBT evidence base for several topic areas. The Center and the Coalition presented these briefs in organized public comment periods and to key leaders of Healthy People 2020. To produce the briefs, we surveyed a wide group of LGBT health research experts about the strength of the evidence base in LGBT disparities. Using Healthy People 2010 objectives as a template, survey respondents were asked to rate the evidence base showing areas of increased concern for one or more LGBT population groups. We collated the answers and produced briefs for several topic areas. The briefs report “insufficient evidence” for many of the health objectives, reflecting the continued difficulty in assessing LGBT health disparities given the absence of LGBT data collection in many national health surveys. However, responders did indicate that the science provides “strong” or “some” evidence of LGBT health disparities in a number of Healthy People objectives. Among the health indictors with evidence for LGBT disparities are: core competencies in health provider training, colorectal cancer deaths, pap tests, suicide, adolescent suicide attempts, healthy weight in adults, obesity in adults, adolescent and adult use of illicit substances, binge drinking, alcohol consumption and adult and adolescent tobacco use. The complete briefs can be downloaded and provide more information: