1. Hines, Dana D. PhD, MSN, RN


A doctoral scholar describes potential barriers to professional support.


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Prior to the release of The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding, a 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), there was little support for scholars pursuing research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health. A 2007 survey by Corliss and colleagues of U.S. schools of public health found a dearth of faculty- and doctoral student-led LGBT research. Reasons suggested for this included lack of institutional and financial support, heterosexism, and negative stereotypes associated with LGBT populations.

Figure. Dana D. Hine... - Click to enlarge in new window Dana D. Hines

In 2010, as a predoctoral fellow, I presented my proposed dissertation topic, HIV care among transgender women, to faculty in the research training program at my graduate institution. I was met with resistance and encouraged to pursue a different topic.


Concerns of the faculty were valid. I could not answer fundamental questions crucial to such research: "How many people are transgender?" and "How many transgender people have HIV?" At the time, the only quantifiable data available were from epidemiologic surveys conducted in large metropolitan areas and a small but growing body of literature.


Understandably, it was not enough to say, "This study needs to be done because little is known about this population." Despite the faculty's concerns that my proposed research was neither fundable nor feasible, I was committed to this topic.


In spring 2011, as I was preparing to submit my training grant application to the National Institute of Nursing Research, the IOM report was released. I vividly remember that day because I received an e-mail from the research training program director that read, "What an awesome argument you are making for the need for this important study. Congrats!" The IOM report gave credence to my proposed dissertation research and gave me the momentum to push forward. Even more affirming was receiving funding in response to my first grant submission.


Through my dissertation study, "Social Patterns and Pathways of HIV Care Among HIV-Positive Transgender Women," I hoped to shed light on a population who are often overlooked and misunderstood. I endeavored to give voice to this population to educate my peers on the need to include them in research. As I attended conferences, delivering my elevator speech about my research, I realized that transgender health had many opponents. I was often asked, "How can you work with those people?" I responded, "Because they are people, and they matter."


Similar to self-identified LGBT scholars, heterosexual scholars committed to LGBT issues also encounter discrimination. My research focus has elicited questions such as "Are you a lesbian?" or "Are you HIV positive?" This social probing illuminates the pervasiveness of homophobia and stereotyping in our society and explains why LGBT health issues have long been neglected.


Since my doctoral research began, transgender health issues have become a priority among national research agencies, which have earmarked increasing funds for this research. But scholars who investigate LGBT-related health issues continue to face challenges. Based on my experience, I would advise those interested in LGBT health research to do the following:


* Identify colleagues who support your research.


* Be resilient.


* Build relationships within the LGBT community.


* Join professional organizations committed to advancing LGBT research initiatives.


* Identify mentors, inside and outside your discipline, who are engaged in similar research.


* Be persistent. If one faculty mentor disapproves of your proposed research, the next may not.


* Decide what you are willing to risk (professional isolation, for example, or heterosexist bias).



Despite these challenges, it is an exciting time for transgender people and their allies in the United States. I am proud to be a part of this movement and a pioneer for nursing-led transgender health research.