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LGBTQ adolescent health study seeks to understand local issues and priorities

By Ryan Combs, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Public Health & Information Sciences Sciences

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) young people are more visible than ever, but face stark health disparities due to social stigma and a lack of culturally competent health services. While many have positive experiences as they discover and explore their identities, their health outcomes, both mental and physical, depend upon social determinants of health and the quality of their support systems. Constructing health-related services and disseminating effective resources requires us to consider sexual and gender minority adolescents’ information needs, existing resources, community capacity, and culture.

The academic literature says that depression, suicide, substance misuse, violence, sexual health, and homelessness are among the key health concerns for LGBTQ young people. Gender nonconforming youth of any sexual orientation are at a higher risk for childhood physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. This and other trauma puts them at risk for a variety of physical ailments such as cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and poor immune function. Over one fifth of gay or lesbian students did not attend school for one or more days in the past month due to worries about their safety. Compounding these concerns, health information targeting LGBTQ adolescents is limited and, often, inaccurate.


The modest number of existing health interventions and communication materials targeting LGBTQ youth have either been created for a general audience or intended for use in large metropolitan areas. It is unclear the extent to which they reflect the health priorities and cultural needs of Louisville’s unique blend of Southern and Midwestern culture. We have a vibrant LGBTQ community in the city, but at times young people can be excluded from the services and support systems available to adults. We saw a clear research gap.

Our research team is undertaking a mixed methods study on the topic of LGBTQ adolescent health. We are conducting focus groups with young people and interviewing adult stakeholders such as parents, educators, doctors, mental health professionals, and social workers. This will provide us with an evidence base upon which to create a community-informed, comprehensive health communication campaign later this year. Our team includes Dr. Maurice Gattis from the Kent School of Social Work, Dr. Kendall Purcell and Dr. Amber Pendleton from Pediatrics, Dr. Kinton Rossman from TSTAR, and Public Health students Kamau (TiQi) Brown and Taylor Young. The team is partnering with Louisville Youth Group and the Jefferson County Public Schools LGBTQ Student Supports Subcommittee and is funded through the Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research (CCTSJR).

We hope our research will be used to help local stakeholders develop culturally tailored health services and information to meet the needs of LGBTQ youth in the city. We would also like to see similar work replicated in other locations, so we can gain a better understanding of the diversity among sexual and gender minorities in communities across the country. If you would like to learn more about our work, please visit www.communityresearchlouisville.com/lgbtq.

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