In June, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) marked Pride 2016 with a series of talks, features, and trainings to help promote health research and equal opportunity for sexual and gender minorities (SGM). The events were unified by the theme, Telling Our Stories: Claiming Our Power. Standing In Our Truth. The value and importance of telling stories is emphasized in an NIH video by Albert Smith, principal strategist of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion program for SGM.
NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., set the tone for Pride 2016 with an NIH-wide message June 1 expressing leadership’s support for the month-long multimedia celebration. “Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to learn about, understand, and work for the interests of those groups that invite us and trust us to explore research opportunities within their communities,” Collins wrote.
Leadership support included a June 10 message from NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., who wrote, “Our inclusiveness and diversity make us more competitive as a workplace of choice.” At NIEHS, efforts to increase diversity in the health sciences are led by Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the Office of Science Education and Diversity.
Heightening awareness of research needs
Organized by the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Pride 2016 opened May 25 with a videocast panel discussion on HIV, sexual health, resiliency, and other issues that affect black gays, bisexuals, and others. “One of our goals today is to heighten awareness of the health research needs of African American sexual and gender minorities,” said NIH Deputy Director for Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives James Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., in his welcoming remarks.
The speakers, affiliated with the Washington, D.C., ManDate: A Program of Project Healthy Living, explored the disparities that affect the health of gay black people, increase their risk for sexually transmitted infections, and lower life expectancy. The project, now in its sixth year and continuing to expand, has demonstrated the importance of outreach and community building in finding solutions.
With its second panel discussion June 8, Pride 2016 tackled issues of gathering and analyzing new data, and using existing databases on sexual and gender minority health. “Data is the common currency of science,” said NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D. “Absent the data, there is, at best, speculation, or at worst, denial.” The event also featured representatives of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP); NORC, formerly the National Opinion Research Center; the Williams Institute; and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
All of the speakers conceded that much data remain to be gathered to document health disparities and accurately reflect the extent of problems. However, each speaker demonstrated substantial progress in getting large-scale studies of tens and even hundreds of thousands underway, and more are being planned.
On the final day of Pride 2016, June 30, a storyteller, a researcher, and a patient advocate presented varied perspectives on the lives of transgender people and their journey through the health care and research communities. It followed a companion training session earlier in the month that addressed ways that managers, supervisors, and colleagues can create an inviting workplace for supporting transgender and gender nonconforming people at NIH.
(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)