Hi, I’m Jen Przewoznik, Director of Prevention and Evaluation at the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. I have been working with and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) communities for 15 years. I’d like to share some thoughts about conducting research with and within LGBTQI+ communities that I have learned, using as an example a current study I am co-investigating.
Research with and within LGBTQI+ communities has happened for decades. More and more of this research is conducted by people who are well trained in data collection and analysis regarding people who claim non-normative sexual and gender identities. Unfortunately, a lot of this research still misses the mark. Some researchers, agenda-driven, “miss the mark” because they are actively trying to defame LGBTQI+ people. Most studies, however, seem to miss the mark due to fundamental design flaws. There are still measurement tools being created (maybe right now?!?! Let’s hope not right now) that conflate sexual orientation and gender identity.
Hot Tip: Friends don’t let friends conflate sexual orientation and gender identity. I know you wouldn’t do this, but if you see a researcher doing this, please tell them to stop.
Hot Tip: Engage BOTH LGBTQI+ people and researchers in the process of creating instruments to better understand LGBTQI+ lives and experiences. Myself and Juliette Grimmett, NC Sexual Violence Prevention Team member, are collaborating with Drs. Paige Hall Smith and Leanne Royster of UNC Greensboro on a study about LGBTQI+ peoples’ experiences with sexual violence on NC College Campuses. The results will help campuses create inclusive and affirming sexual violence prevention programming. We began by holding a daylong semi-structured qualitative discussion group to engage folks in conversations about sexual violence and LGBTQI+ communities. People were chosen for their experience in sexual violence or LGBTQI+ campus work with an emphasis on inviting people we knew to be allies and/or themselves LGBTQI+-identified.
Lessons Learned: The output from the meeting heavily informed the survey, which includes questions about sexual violence without using normative terms for body parts and allows participants to choose “all that apply” for identity questions. Our colleagues reminded us that this work can’t be as neat and tidy as it sometimes seems researchers and statisticians would like.
When we exclude necessary research elements because we do not have the knowledge or are too concerned with whether the data will be publishable (statistical significance, the enemy of robust LGBTQI+ research. Kidding. Sort of.), we are left with results that are largely unreliable. While this shouldn’t hold us back from doing this work, it is incredibly important that we continue to explore ways to ask difficult questions and analyze complex responses in order to truly understand peoples’ lived experiences.
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