Staff members from the EDIT team at ISGMH’s 3rd Annual State of SGM (Sexual and Gender Minority) Health Symposium on August 15th, 2018. From left to right: Peter Lindeman, Anand Raman, Ying Han, Blair Turner, Rachel Marro, and Jacob Broschart.
Written by Ying Han, B.A, EDIT program intern
Hello! This is Ying. I’ve been working with the EDIT team at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University (ISGMH)* as an intern for my first summer post-undergrad at Northwestern. I double majored in Bio and Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) and minored in Japanese and indecision.
Halfway through senior year, I began panicking after the realization hit me “four-years-of-pre-med-too-late” that I maybe didn’t want to do the med school thing, but rather grad school and research instead. However, I struggled with what that would look like to me and how doing research would help me find and fulfill a sense of purpose that I assumed becoming a physician would straightforwardly give me. That’s when I found myself talking to Dr. Gregory Phillips II, Director of the EDIT program, for a summer position. Since then, it’s been a kind of ~ the stars have aligned, my skin is clear, my crops are flourishing ~ experience. I’m beginning to find some clarity in this happy marriage of all things GSS and health, that gives birth (if you will) to so many concrete and important applications of all the theories I’m interested in – intersectionality, stigma, identity, intimacy, etc…I’ve been learning a lot from working with everyone in EDIT.
In a lot of ways, the speakers at the 3rd Annual ISGMH Symposium, which was held a couple of weeks ago on August 15th and titled “Illuminating the Intersections of Race and LGBTQ Health”, verbalized and illuminated these issues that I’ve slowly become aware of as I seek to enter the world of academia. (Also, it was just so cool to hear and actually see one of the authors I had been reading on for a paper I’m working on now with Dr. Lauren Beach at ISGMH. How surreal.)
Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1990s, but really a perspective that was already voiced all the way back in 1851 by Sojourner Truth in her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” intersectionality is at the core of feminist, gender, and legal studies, as a way of understanding the ways in which individual experiences “within” and “across” social identities act together according to social and cultural contexts.
Within these specific contexts, there is a certain “ebb and flow” in how “privilege and penalty” are located in bodies, according to the social power structures at play. In this sense, identities that define and intersect in each and every person are reflective of social structures, systems, and institutions that lie beyond the individual level, at the level of public policy, social norms, and cultural practices. And in each person’s meshwork of identities, some identities become more noticeable than others depending on which social power is dominating in any given situation.
When considering how this framework can be used to de-center the viewpoint from dominant social groups and focus on the experiences of under-served, marginalized populations, Dr. Lisa Bowleg spoke in her powerful keynote presentation about how intersectionality, as a social justice theory, can and should inform research in the social sciences and push back against the environment of academia at large, where intersectionality is not taken into account enough.
We saw some examples of how an awareness of social power structures can influence research questions in the panel on “Intersectionality, Sexual Intimacy, and Health” with James Wages and Drs. Gregory Phillips II and Héctor Carrillo. Although the individual as a primary unit of study should guide research in order to remain aware of the social realities that impact real people, Dr. Bowleg described a shift in focus onto those larger social processes.
However, in never forgetting the individual, we must also never forget or discount the strength and resilience that allows marginalized groups to persist and resist in the face of disempowerment. In our second panel on “Community Health” with Kristiana Rae Colón, Dr. Aymar Jean Christian, and Erik Elias Glenn, we heard about how organizing and building alliances works in the community. While it is ~ cool and fresh ~ that social sciences research is catching on with the idea of intersectionality, the scope of knowledge and real experiences outside of the academic bubble have always been involved in this work.
The call-to-action these panelists voiced emphasized the need for researchers to investigate questions that the community wants and needs to learn. Personally, as someone who’s just dipping their toes into research and academia, this was so important to hear, recognize, and hopefully drive any future work I do or am involved in.
As a happy coincidence to this symposium, ISGMH’s Evaluation and Community Collaboration Conference (EC²) was held last week in Chicago, creating more opportunities for community engagement and the exchange of ideas between community leaders and researchers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it, but I hope you all did and I can’t wait to hear about it!
*Note: The IMPACT program and the EDIT program are both part of ISGMH.
SMART project members from the University of Puerto Rico and Northwestern University at San Juan Pride, June 3rd, 2018.
Written by David Moskowitz, PhD, Research Assistant Professor and Project Director for SMART. David has his PhD in health communication.
A couple of weeks ago, some of us from the SMART Project, an online HIV prevention and sexual health promotion program for teens, flew to San Juan to meet with colleagues from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and to attend San Juan Pride on June 3rd. The SMART team went to the Pride Parade to recruit participants and to record videos for our project. The SMART Project is a bilingual program available online that provides the queer sex education that teens don’t receive from high school. Our team at Northwestern University is responsible for creating the English version and Dr. Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz and his team at UPR are responsible for adapting and translating the project into Spanish. I won’t bore you with the administrative details of the meetings we had, because I’m sure you want to hear about San Juan Pride, the first Pride event since Hurricane Maria swept through as a Category 5 storm, decimating the infrastructure of the island.
Let me back up a moment—in the days leading up to our arrival in San Juan, many of us were not sure what it would be like flying to Puerto Rico for the first time, post-Maria. Would there be power? Would there be palm trees strewn across the streets? Would getting around be easy or even possible? I mean, considering the mainland US news reports over the past months, these were real concerns. We had been in constant contact with our UPR counterparts (Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz and his team) during and after Maria. They indicated that things were fine for visitors but the devastation is still impactful on a daily basis for those living in San Juan and around the island.
Landing into San Juan and driving to the hotel, there were indicators of Maria everywhere. There were skeletons of commercial signs where only the metal scaffolding was still standing. A majority of the trees were now supported upright by timber planks bolted to the ground and trunk. The once-thriving tourist area was dotted with empty storefronts where those businesses and restaurants starved without sellable products and consistent food shipments and, of course, the tourists to buy them. Our team wasn’t sure what this would mean for the turnout during the pride event.
Fast forward to Sunday morning, June 3rd—Half of the team from Northwestern marched in the parade with the UPR team and the other half helped staff from UPR set up at the Parque del Tercer Milenio (where the parade would empty into and where the pride festival would be held). The parade started mid-morning and as floats from different organizations, drag queens, and other groups started making their way down Avenida Ashford, there was a noticeable sense of resiliency, fearlessness, and momentum. Our own group, joining underneath Dr. Rodríguez-Díaz and his staff adorned t-shirts that said, “ORGULLO ES PROTESTA,” or “PRIDE IS PROTEST.”
I think that summed up the spirit of the event. The LGBT Puerto Rican people were not just marching because of “gay pride;” they were marching for Puerto Rico—for pride in their land, in their spirit, and in their resurgence. They were marching to protest the mainland’s misconceptions of their struggles. They were marching to protest feeling like second-class Americans. It was that abundance in pride springing from the people’s duality that made this the most impressive and awe-inspiring Pride that I’ve ever been to.
More photos that the SMART team took during San Juan Pride, including attendees posing with the SMART owl mascot, “Owlejandro:”
To learn more about SMART and how to join, click here or check us out on social media.
Written by Beth Ann Hamilton, B.A., Program Assistant
Content warning: sexual assault, violence
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a month dedicated to raising awareness of sexual violence, educating communities on prevention, and supporting survivors. The widespread occurrence of sexual violence makes SAAM necessary: the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey found that LGB people are more likely than straight people to report experiencing intimate partner or sexual violence, with bisexual women being impacted the most. Another survey found 21% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming (TGQN) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN women, and 4% of non-TGQN men.
Though many people experience sexual assault, especially in the LGBTQ community, their loved ones often are unsure of how to support them after an assault. Here are some tips for supporting a friend who tells you they have experienced sexual violence:
Everyone knows someone who has been affected by sexual violence in some way. Even so, we’re often taught to internalize harmful rape myths that make it hard for survivors to share their stories or seek justice. Take the time to educate yourself on common reactions to sexual assault (there is no one right way to respond to sexual assault), the truth about false reporting rates (only 2-10% of sexual assault reports are estimated to be false), barriers to reporting sexual assault (it’s often difficult for a number of reasons), and victim blaming (sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault). Taking the time to learn about the dynamics of sexual assault shows that you care about being a knowledgeable, compassionate friend.
Victims of sexual violence are often met with disbelief when opening up about sexual assault. This might be especially true for LGBTQ survivors whose experiences may not fit into stereotypes (for example, the assumption that perpetrators [assaulters] are always men, or survivors are always women). Simply making a it a point to tell someone “I hear you and I believe that this happened to you” can be hugely important to a survivor. Let the person know how difficult it must have been for them to share this with you.
Let them lead the conversation.
Many people want to jump into problem-solving mode when they learn that a friend was sexually assaulted, especially if the assault happened recently. While it’s natural to react this way, it is best to focus on listening to your friend. Don’t interrupt them, start offering solutions, or expect them to share every detail of their story. If you want to hold their hand or hug them, ask before doing so and give them space if they say no. Survivors of sexual violence have their agency (their power) taken away from them when they’re assaulted. By letting your friend tell you what they need and respecting their wishes, you’re doing what you can to support them in regaining their agency.
Emphasize that it’s not their fault.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that often focuses attention on the behavior of sexual assault survivors, rather than sexual assault perpetrators. Because of this, it’s common for survivors to have feelings of self blame following a sexual assault. Telling your friend that what happened to them wasn’t their fault (regardless of where they were, what they were wearing, or if they were drinking or using drugs) can go a long way in making them feel supported. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.
Even if you feel strongly that your friend should go to the hospital, report their assault to the police, or find a therapist, do not pressure your friend to take action in any specific way. These choices can be complicated, especially if your friend may be concerned about having to deal with homophobia, transphobia, and/or racism throughout the process. Ask your friend if they would like to learn about available resources and options, and support them with whatever decisions they make. Survivors have the right to make their own choices following sexual assault.
Take care of yourself, too.
It is never easy to hear that someone you love has experienced sexual assault (especially if you are also a survivor). Be sure to check in with your own feelings and take time for self care.
Most of these suggestions boil down to:
“I believe you, I support you, it’s not your fault.”
Nobody has all the right answers and that’s okay. You don’t need to know exactly what to say when supporting a friend who’s experienced sexual assault: meeting them with belief and love will go a long way in helping them heal.
Beth Ann Hamilton, B.A., (she/her) is a program assistant for ISGMH. She is a graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied Psychology and Bioethics. Beth Ann has extensive experience providing crisis intervention and in-person medical advocacy to survivors of sexual assault. She has also worked as a violence prevention peer educator and as a research assistant on an evaluation of a flexible funding program for survivors of intimate partner violence. She is passionate about feminism, consent-focused sexual health promotion, and gender-based violence prevention. Beth Ann is currently a graduate student in Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Health Communication program where she is focusing on sexual health education, healthcare provider response to intimate partner violence and reproductive coercion, and public health policy.
In June of 2017, my partner and I went to our first Pride Parade in the City of Chicago, after having moved here the year before. This was the largest Pride Parade I had ever been to, and it made me so glad to be a part of the Chicago LGBTQ community.
As we were leaving the parade and the crowd was dispersing, our walk home became more of a hopscotch of trying to avoid all of the garbage on the ground.
There was a sea of litter – not just the beads and items that were thrown during the parade, but mostly discarded food wrappers, beer and soda cans, bottles, and all of the litter imaginable. I know this is hard to avoid during large events, but I couldn’t help feeling disheartened when picturing all of that litter being added to the top of a giant landfill somewhere.
tanukiko, “Aftermath,” June 24, 2007.
For many people, waste is viewed as “out of sight, out of mind.” At IMPACT, which is part of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) at Northwestern University, we know that’s not the case and that what we do has a definite impact on the environment.
“In ISGMH we try to make the world a better place for LGBTQ people, but we should try not to destroy the planet in the meantime, or there won’t be a world for us to enjoy.” – Dr. Francesca Gaiba, associate director of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health at Northwestern University (ISGMH).
Members of ISGMH’s Green Team. From left to right: Chika Ike, Kai Korpak, Shawna Davis, Beth Ann Hamilton, Peter Lindeman, Dr. Kathryn Macapagal, Dr. Ricky Hill, and Kate Banner. Not pictured: Christina Hayford, Arielle Zimmerman, Kitty Buehler, Ro Truong, Erin Dominici, and Dr. Francesca Gaiba.
Tips for Being Green
Want to help? Here are some tips for reducing waste and helping the environment:
1.Start small – you don’t have to be perfect.
No one is, and everyone slips up. Start by making small changes in your lifestyle, like committing to bringing a reusable water bottle or reusable coffee/tea mug with you. If you’re going to shop, remember to bring reusable bags. Zero Waste Chicago has lots of additional ideas for reducing waste. Can you bike (with a helmet) or walk instead of taking public transit or driving? Try to recycle more. See a plastic bottle on the ground? Pick it up and take it to a recycling bin if you can. If you want to take it to the next level, there are many local environmental organizations that could use volunteers, allowing you connect to other members of the community and learn new skills.
Where does waste ultimately end up? A lot of litter also ends up in our water supplies, like Lake Michigan. According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the most common trash found during beach cleanups are:
tiny trash (made up of broken down pieces of plastic and glass,)
smoking-related litter (cigarette butts), and
food-related litter .
There isn’t an exact answer for how long plastic items like plastic bottles or bags take to decompose. Answers range from hundreds to thousands of years on land, but it will certainly take well beyond one person’s lifetime. In oceans, plastics do not tend to go away, but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces , creating a sort of plastic soup, as Edward Humes describes in his book, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash.” One of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) tips is to remember that our land and sea are connected. Thinking of the bigger picture can help with reducing waste, keeping trash away from where it shouldn’t be, and protecting both the land and the water.
5.Encourage others to do the same.
While people may not be into it at first, just letting them know the steps you’ve taken or sharing info you’ve learned may go further than you think. Encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to recycle more. Sometimes just seeing someone else doing something is enough to start a trend. When you walk into a coffee shop and ask the barista to refill your mug, you’re also making an impression on the people around you. Many coffee shops even offer a discount for bringing in your own mug – who wouldn’t want a discount?
6.Love each other and also love the environment.
Pride is all about love, celebrating who we are, being visible, building community, and demanding respect and quality of life. At the same time that we ask to be respected, it’s important to also respect the environment around us. One Seattle-based organization, Out for Sustainability, is trying to do just that by “mobilizing the LGBTQ community for environmental and social action, in pursuit of a fabulous planet.” In select cities, they work with parade/festival organizers to create a “Greener Pride.” As of yet, these efforts have not yet reached Chicago, but their work serves as an example of what can be done. We can work both individually and collectively to reduce our environmental impact and celebrate Pride without the harmful environmental consequences.
We are all part of this beautifully woven and interconnected community. Let’s keep it beautiful and healthy for future generations. Enjoy knowing that you’ve made a difference, just by making an effort. After all, the cleaner our environment, the more there is to enjoy, and hopefully you won’t have to navigate leftover food remnants or broken bottles after the parade.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Shawna Davis, “Lakefront Trail, Chicago,” April 2016.
Enlisting in the U.S. Air Force was one of the best and most important decisions I have ever made in my life. I decided to enlist in 2006 while the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy was in effect. During DADT, the main policy was just that – the military will not ask you about your sexual orientation and you will not tell them what your sexual orientation is. Even though I was LGBTQ identified, I wanted to serve my country, get the G.I. Bill, and use the experience to find a good job afterwards. During the four years of my enlistment, I made life-long friends, traveled to other countries, and gained experience that I still use today. There were a lot of great experiences, but there were also struggles from being LGBTQ identified.
One of the struggles I faced was sometimes worrying about the military finding out that I was LGBTQ identified. If they did find out, there would be an investigation. If there was enough evidence to prove that I was LGBTQ identified, then there would be a court-martial. I would then be given a General Under Honorable Conditions discharge, depending on my character of service and the “evidence” they found. The type of discharge someone receives from the military is extremely important because it specifies what types of veteran benefits a person may receive, such as medical benefits and the all-important G.I. Bill. More often than not, people who were discharged under DADT received Other Than Honorable discharges.
After 17 years as a law, DADT was repealed in 2010, allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified individuals to serve openly. DADT is still not over for many transgender service members though. I think that some of my personal struggles and fears and those of other LGBTQ-identified individuals who served under DADT are similar to the struggles and fears that current military personnel have today about serving openly, especially transgender individuals . Even though the administration could not successfully enforce the transgender military ban, there was a lot of concern by currently-serving, transgender-identified individuals when the August 2017 presidential memorandum “Military Service by Transgender Individuals” was announced. There is now an opposing legislative bill that was introduced in September 2017 which “would prohibit the involuntary separation or denying of re-enlistment of transgender troops solely on the basis of gender identity .” The bill has still not been passed, and the futures of transgender service members are still uncertain.
Luckily, most of the people that I worked with while in the Air Force didn’t care if I was LGBTQ identified or not. Furthermore, by the time I was stationed and had completed my initial training, most people in the military didn’t care about anyone’s sexual orientation. The military facility I specifically worked at had many LGBTQ-identified individuals and people from all branches of the military. This created strong friendships, a sense of family, and a “home away from home” for many of us. While working there, I made life-long friends and I still keep in touch with most of them today. One such friend recommended that I move to Chicago when I was discharged, and I have lived here ever since.
How to enlist and questions to ask:
If you’re curious about or interested in one day joining the military, there are a few basic requirements. First, you have to have a high school diploma or GED. Second, you have to be either 17 (with parent permission) or 18 years old. You will have to pass a physical exam and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. I always suggest speaking with either a veteran or someone currently serving before talking with a recruiter. If you identify as LGBTQ I recommend reaching out to a LGBTQ identified veteran.
 Caputo, C. J. (2017). Should Transgender Persons Serve?. U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 143(12), 42-47.
 To provide for the retention and service of transgender members of the Armed Forces, S. 1820, 115th Cong. (2017).
You might be familiar with this term that’s been showing up a lot in politics lately: “fake news.” It seems like everything is up for interpretation. Facts and opinions are all mixed up and trying to make sense of it all can leave your head spinning. But what about fake news and your health? You never thought about it, right? Well, in all seriousness, it’s time for every young person to really think about the health information that’s scrambling across their screen. It can be especially frightening when you’re looking for true facts about how best to take care of yourself and you aren’t sure which sources to believe. So what can you do to find true health news and facts that are important for you? Here are a few tips, based on advice from the National Institutes of Health , that you can take to the bank so that you don’t fall victim to fake health news:
1. Consider the source.
– Where you find health information will tell you A LOT about the information itself. Government agencies like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services usually have strong data that has been tested by researchers. Individuals, on the other hand, even people claiming to be doctors or who may actually be doctors, may be trying to mislead you into using them or their services. Not all websites are created equally.
2. Focus on quality.
– Similar to the point about sources, finding health data that has been researched by scientists and checked by peer-review is really the only data that should be impacting the health decisions you make. To figure out if health information is of high quality, try to see what methods were used to get that information. If it’s what Grandma Sue thought in 1992, well, that should speak volumes of the quality. If it’s what Northwestern scientists found yesterday, those facts are probably better quality.
3. Be a cyber-skeptic.
– If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Treatments and health plans (like weight-loss programs) usually come with a price, meaning there is someone out there trying to make a buck off you! Even if someone isn’t directly trying to take advantage of you, all information you find should be backed up in multiple, independent places around the web. Get a second opinion on just about anything you read online.
4. Look for the evidence.
– Health “facts” you find online aren’t facts until you see the medical research behind them. Know the difference between a health fact and a health opinion. If there is hard science and good methodology behind what is being said by a website, it’s probably true. However, if there is only a person’s experience, feelings, or attitudes about a health problem or treatment, even if that person claims to be an expert, you should still ask to see the science.
5. Check for timeliness.
– Back in the 1950s, doctors actually suggested to their patients that they smoke cigarettes. We know better now. Always make sure there is a time stamp or date on the web page you’re looking at or the study you’re reading about. Health facts are constantly improving and you want to stay on the cutting edge.
6. Beware of bias.
– When finding information online, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of the site and who is paying for it?” Look for words like “advertisement” or “sponsored content,” which means that what you’re reading is actually a promotion for a health treatment or product. These can be really tricky to spot. Generally, if what you’re reading is presenting you with both the problem and the solution, which you can buy from them, that’s probably fake health news.
7. Protect your privacy.
– Never give out health information or personal information about yourself in order to get health facts or information. If a site is asking for even basic info as a means to “give you better advice,” they may be scamming you. If you feel you need help with your health or treatment, see an in-person healthcare professional who legally can guarantee confidentiality.
8. Consult with your health professional.
– And finally, no online fact should be substituted for a frank and honest discussion with your health provider or doctor. They are going to know you best and know your health history. They’ll be able to make connections that no website can make. At the end of the day, it’s your body and you only get one. Don’t use “facts” online as a way to ignore real health problems you’re experiencing. Go see a doctor if you need to.
By following these 8 rules, you’ll be an expert at knowing what’s bull and what just might save your life!