Pride Month—It’s Important for Us All
“People are more engaged when they can bring their whole selves to the table.”
As we celebrate Pride Month, I’m pleased to share wisdom from my colleague Karen L. Parker, Ph.D., M.S.W., Director of the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office at NIH.
Embracing our differences and working together are essential to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) colleagues in the sexual and gender minority (SGM) community contribute valuable perspectives to biomedical and behavioral science research.
Pride Month offers the perfect opportunity to educate ourselves on the systemic inequalities and the progress of our colleagues in the LGBTQIA+ communities and to foster a safe and welcoming work environment for all.
I reached out to Dr. Parker to talk about what’s happening in her office and the impact of the groundbreaking NIH-commissioned report, Measuring Sex, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation.
As always, she was forthcoming, thought-provoking, and engaging.
Growing Need and Impact
The impact of NIH’s Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office stretches across NIH and beyond.
“Over the past five years, the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office has carved out an area of expertise within NIH, HHS, and the wider federal community,” said Dr. Parker. “By collaborating across NIH and with federal partners, we’re providing technical assistance and promoting more robust inclusion of SGM populations in our workforce and research.”
As her office’s work in data increases, Dr. Parker explained, “Data collection is just the beginning.”
An example includes the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey’s questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. “This information is critical to our understanding of the human experience,” Dr. Parker noted. “When we don’t collect, analyze, and report on these data in an appropriate and safe way, we are not doing rigorous research or addressing challenges in the scientific workforce.”
Seen, Heard, and Included
In March 2022, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released the NIH-commissioned report Measuring Sex, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation.
The importance of this comprehensive report can’t be understated.
“There are gaps in our understanding of health conditions and outcomes for SGM populations due in part to a lack of adequate and accurate data collection,” said Dr. Parker. “By providing baseline recommendations for identifying and collecting data on SGM people that is more comprehensive, we can go beyond the traditional approach than the collection of sex as a binary variable. Collecting sexual orientation and gender identity information allows for more rigorous and informed research.”
But collecting data from SGM people can be challenging. “People are comfortable sharing their identities when they feel safe and believe that disclosure will not be used to harm them,” said Dr. Parker. “It’s important that we clearly communicate to study participants and patients why we are collecting these data, how the data will be used, how it will be protected, and that demographic questions are always voluntary.”
The report also highlighted the importance of better documentation to understand the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. “SGM populations have always been present in our workforce, as research participants and in our communities,” said Dr. Parker.
A diverse workplace has implications for research as well. “When the benefits of a more representative and diverse workforce are quantitatively documented, research conducted in the biomedical and behavioral fields will be more likely to include more inclusive study design and participation.”
As Dr. Parker said, “The report reiterated that all people deserve to be counted and to self-identify. It’s vital to make sure that people feel seen, heard, and included.”
As we celebrate Pride Month, I urge you to check out events and information on NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion website and the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office. Think about how you and your team can ensure that, as Dr. Parker says, everyone is seen, heard, and included.