“Paid research opportunities; why are we the “researched” and not the “researchers?”: How research and community can work hand-in-hand to create equitable and expansive opportunities for queer and transgender people

By Kieran Todd

The involvement of transgender and queer populations in research often poses us as the participants, and rarely as the researchers themselves. Study teams are full of cisgender advocates, even straight advocates, creating programming, health interventions, and finding solutions to the various inequities we experience as a part of the LGBTQ community.

I am fresh into my career as a public health researcher and interventionist, but I am not new to the necessity to what it means to divert resources to the communities that need them, and allow said communities to create and drive the solutions that are most appropriate. I currently function as the study coordinator for a project that uses home HIV testing and telemedicine counseling to increase the uptake of HIV testing for gay/bisexual/queer men of color, and a home HIV testing project for transgender youth ages 15-24. I have a background in economic and policy analysis, but stumbled upon the field of public health because I desired to work more closely with and for communities, implementing values of community and equity in research design and implementation.

There is plenty of work to be done, and it is inevitable that non-community members will be alongside us – they still have a place – but it must be more intentional. Study tools that should be used by all researchers who have human participants, and especially by non-community members/allies, are where every researcher should start. Community Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR), calls on investigators/researchers to not only consult community, but for the community to participate in the creation of the research, benefit in some way from their partnership with the researchers/institutions, and be afforded the opportunity to use the findings of that research. It is unfathomable to create a social program, a support group, a substance use intervention, without an explicit need being voiced by the community for which it’s been created. In the realm of public health, the LGBTQ community is often provided interventions and programming for HIV testing and safer sex. While these are incredibly important, especially for LGBTQ people of color (POC) with rising rates of infection, these interventions may not be at the forefront of a list of needs.

People who do not look at study ID numbers every day, or model health outcomes within a dataset, can still benefit from research findings. Non-profit organizations, community centers, and health clinics need to know that, for example, in recent studies transmasc folks are having a harder time finding care and support for reproductive health check-ups. We have an obligation as researchers to make accessible the research process, and ensure our successes, and our non-findings, are shared with community.

And while not every queer and/or trans person wants to do work in their own communities, there are plenty who do, and we need to do a better job creating a pipeline for folks to receive the skills and education needed to compliment the already priceless lived experiences we all have. No one knows us better than ourselves. Should you consider creating an event, a social support group/program, health interventions, or any other supportive measure for queer and trans folks, the most powerful solutions are those that are created alongside, by, with, and for the community.

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