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.
Nicole Marie Edine, “Body Positive,” Union Square, New York, NY, Summer 2012.
Written by Ashley Kraus, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow
December 31st is growing near and it’s almost time to come up with 2018 New Year’s resolutions, if that’s your thing. One of the most common resolutions is to lose weight or get into better shape. Often these goals are rooted in feelings of negativity and self-hate. If you are considering setting a fitness/weight-loss goal as this year’s resolution, I encourage you to set body-positive goals instead!
Here are five ways to turn your fitness/weight-loss New Year’s resolution into a body-positive resolution:
1. Don’t cut things out of your diet – add activities instead.
Instead of cutting certain foods or food groups out of your diet, add an activity you enjoy! Crash diets are unfulfilling, and often they lead to a downward spiral of self-loathing. You need food for fuel and energy! So, rather than depriving yourself, indulge in an activity you love. Can’t think of something you love? Now is the time to explore your interests and discover something new!
2. Focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like.
Our bodies are capable of truly amazing things, and yet we spend more time focused on our body’s appearance than its abilities. Exercising is a wonderful way to relieve stress and feel good. Focus on the new skills you have achieved, not on weight loss or muscle gain!
3. Stop comparing yourself to others.
It’s human nature to compare ourselves to our peers and others, but it is important that we do not give these comparisons too much weight. “Healthy” looks different on everyone!
4. Compliment someone else.
The tried and true way to receive positivity is to put out positivity into the world. A kind word from you might be all someone needs to turn their day around.
Remember to take time for self-care and relaxation. Unplug from your phone and the Internet (I know, it’s hard!) for just a bit and allow yourself to recharge. Your body will thank you later!
Here are a few more resources for body-positive tips and resources!:
David Nakayama, “Thanksgiving table – 2”, November 26, 2009.
Written by Kai Korpak, B.A., research assistant
Seeing and visiting family during the holidays can be an extremely stressful time for individuals on the sexual and gender minority spectrum, especially for individuals who do not fit in the gender binary. When I was in the early stages of my transition, I was worried about how family would perceive me. While my family is now very accepting of my transition, it did take a while for everyone to get on board. These are some things that I did to get through the holidays:
Be prepared to hear your dead name.
When seeing family after just starting my transition, I worried about which name they would call me. It definitely felt like a slap in the face to hear my dead name (the name given at birth) and wrong pronouns after going through so much to legally change my name. The first Thanksgiving after transitioning was a bit awkward. I had to keep reminding myself that slip-ups were not out of spite, but a mistake. Knowing that this would happen, I had to mentally acknowledge that being dead-named and misgendered was not a reflection of who I was.
Bring a friend or loved one along.
Having someone else whom I could lean on was extremely helpful. Not only did they help ease tension if needed, but they also helped keep things interesting if there was a lull in conversation. Having my partner with me, who was aware of my triggers and what might be anxiety provoking, was helpful because they were able to be there for me if I needed them and potentially be a buffer from more unaccepting family members. Knowing that someone was looking out for me and was accepting of me allowed me to relax and worry a bit less.
Have an exit plan.
Make a plan ahead of time that you can use if things get to be too much. If you are feeling overwhelmed by everything, give yourself permission to get out. If this is not feasible because you’re staying with parents or other relatives, find a way to mentally escape for an hour or just a few minutes. An exit plan can also be as simple as having a book you like to read and escaping into it to distract yourself from family.
Know where additional resources are.
If you are away from home while visiting family, you may not have access to your typical support network. If this is the case, you can jot down the numbers of some local or national lifelines like the ones below:
Written by Parks Dunlap, Research Project Coordinator
The study I manage, FAB 400, is a longitudinal study of intimate partner violence (IPV) in the lives of assigned female at birth (AFAB) LGBTQ Chicago youth. The World Health Organization defines IPV as “… any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors.” There is a common slogan in IPV prevention advocacy, “We are all survivors. We are all perpetrators.” It is intended to humanize perpetrators and survivors, engage with how messy the cycle is, and acknowledge that when you grow up surrounded by violence, that is what you know, trust, experience, and repeat.
The importance of an IPV study housed in an institute that researches sexual and gender minority health and wellbeing is to interrupt the common narrative of IPV as heterosexual. We hope that FAB 400 will help shift in how IPV is discussed, studied, prevented, and healed from by widening the lens to be inclusive of the experiences of sexual and gender minorities. Through this study, approximately 480 LGBTQ youth will have the opportunity to share their experiences of violence (as well as of healthy non-violent relationships) at six time points over the course of 3 years. We took great care in designing our surveys so that they are sensitive and relevant to non-heterosexual and non-cisgender youth, with input from the community itself.
So far, we have interviewed 441 participants; 180 of these have already come in for a second interview six months after their first. This rate of recruitment is much faster than expected, showing that AFAB LGBTQ youth are excited about the study. Some initial findings are that around 65% of participants have experienced psychological IPV, 18% physical abuse, and 15% sexual coercion or violence. For each type of IPV, perpetration and victimization are often reported by the same participants and physical victimization in particular is associated with cigarette smoking, drug use, and suicidality. I look forward to disseminating these findings and others– for example, regarding risk and protective factors for IPV – in scientific and popular outlets. We hope they will be used to inform future policies and prevention efforts that will reduce the IPV experienced by future generations of LGBTQ folks.