Courtesy of Brian Mustanski
Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing celebrated its five-year anniversary on Nov. 5. Founded in 2015, ISGMH aims to better understand and improve the health and wellness of people who identify as sexual and gender minorities.
“We think that health equity should be the next wave of equal rights gained by sexual and gender minorities populations, and we can create and use scientific evidence to help lead that charge,” said Feinberg Prof. Brian Mustanski, founder and director of ISGMH.
Mustanski said ultimately ISGMH wants all sexual and gender minorities, or SGM individuals, to benefit from appropriate health care and their communities to thrive. There are three major programs within ISGMH, which he said address health from different perspectives.
The IMPACT Program studies resiliency, sexual health, mental health and substance use, with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults. The CONNECT Program focuses on the mechanisms driving health disparities in stigmatized populations. The EDIT Program works with community agencies to plan and implement programs serving SGM individuals.
“Our research portfolio grows every year as we strive to address the disparities faced by different populations under the SGM umbrella and to explore the impact of additional health concerns, such as cardiovascular disease and COVID-19, on sexual and gender minorities,” Mustanski said.
Medill Prof. Steven Thrasher, a faculty member at ISGMH, said he joined the institute because he wanted to continue his research on HIV, sickness and the law, race and homophobia after becoming a professor.
Thrasher said he loves that ISGMH studies health and wellbeing in the LGBTQ+ community, unlike a lot of research about such communities that usually focuses on inequalities and diseases.
“We consider sex not just a form of how people can become HIV-positive, but as something that is pleasurable and enjoyable, and necessary to life,” Thrasher said. “I love that our research thinks about how the world can and should exist, where LGBTQ people are not just free of sickness, but thriving with wellness.”
ISGMH faculty member Ricky Hill, a research assistant professor at Feinberg, said they have been working with Feinberg Prof. Michael Newcomb on the 2GETHER program.
According to ISGMH’s website, 2GETHER is a relationship education program for young male couples, where they learn to prevent both HIV acquisition and transmission, with an emphasis on improving their relationship. Hill said the program is important because HIV infection rates are increasing among younger men.
“Our program helps queer guys in relationships be able to better identify and understand certain risk factors for HIV infection, but also just strengthen and enhance their relationship satisfaction,” Hill said.
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