A group of about 60 faculty, staff members and students attended a day-long symposium Thursday on LGBTQ inclusion in research at Rackham Graduate School. Speakers discussed the range of LGBTQ scholarship and research at the University of Michigan, though some attendants criticized a lack of diversity in programming.
“Do I only have to do LGBT health or HIV (research) because I’m a gay man?” Stephenson said. “Is that all I’m allowed to do? No, that’s ridiculous. I’m a researcher, and I learn from my work with communities … your identity doesn’t determine what type of research you’re doing. It should not preclude you from doing any research. You know, we have many cisgender heterosexual faculty at the center who work on research on gay couples. People will say, ‘Well, what do they know?’ They have fundamental skills in research, and they work with communities.”
Stephenson said leading by example was essential to mentoring younger researchers. He emphasized the importance of being an advocate and using his research to make a positive impact.
“I think we have an ethical responsibility as scientists to mentor the next generation, and I think it’s doubly impactful when you’re a sexual minority scientist to provide leadership and mentoring to other people,” he said.
Gesturing around the room, Stephenson added, “This right here is a huge mentorship opportunity.”
Daniel Shumer and Ellen Selkie, who founded the Child and Adolescent Gender Services Clinic at Mott Children’s Hospital, spoke at the symposium about their work with transgender youth. The clinic, which started about three years ago, provides medical services and support and conducts research focused on children and adolescents who identify as trans.
“We are a young clinic,” Selkie said. “It’s a steep learning curve, I would say … At this point, very little that we do has any evidence behind it, which is frustrating clinically but exciting from a research perspective.”
Selkie said the clinic seeks out input from patients and their parents when considering and conducting research.
“When you’re doing research with a sensitive, marginalized population, you really need their input in how you are going to conduct the research and what your priorities are even going to be,” she said. “I think that in pediatric research that’s interesting because our specialty by nature is a paternalistic specialty because our patients are literally children, and so I think that we often ask for parents’ input, but we serve so many adolescents that it behooves us to involve the youth in our research.”
At the end of the symposium, Associate Prof. Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, director of Latina/o Studies, criticized the lack of ethnic and racial diversity among the speakers.
“That should be addressed very specifically, perhaps taking advantage of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and their programs,” La Fountain-Stokes said during a question-and-answer session at the end of the event. “Also, graduate students have been noting how they didn’t know about it and were not able to present, so in moving forward, it seems like it would be ideal to have more spaces for graduates to present.”
Public Health student Hyuri McDowell agreed the symposium would benefit from more diversity, saying more inclusion— as well as increased involvement from graduate students— would have augmented the perspectives offered at the event. McDowell also said it was important to discuss the intersection of research and LGBTQ identity.
“The intersection between those two is very important because no one has just one identity,” he said. “I think those two things have to work together.”