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Columbia Nursing Launches Center for Sexual and Gender Minority Health Research

The new center will investigate unique health risks for LGBTQ individuals, with the goal of promoting social justice and health equity.

Columbia University School of Nursing has announced the establishment of the Center for Sexual and Gender Minority Health Research (CSGMHR). Building on the school’s long-standing, pioneering commitment to LGBTQ health, the center will use innovative methods to study health among sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations across the lifespan, with an emphasis on resilience. The center will also support nursing and interdisciplinary scholarly work focused on social justice and health equity, with the goal of eliminating SGM-related health disparities and establishing Columbia as a national and international nursing leader in SGM health research. 

“While recognition of LGBTQ people’s unique needs is growing, we lack solid evidence on how marginalization, stigma, and discrimination impact health,” says Tonda Hughes, PhD, the executive director of the CSGMHR, the associate dean of global health, and the Henrik H. Bendixen Professor at Columbia Nursing. “The center will support rigorous interdisciplinary research on the social, political, and economic determinants of health for SGM populations,” she adds, “which will in turn inform practice and form a knowledge base for interventions to address health disparities.”

Research shows that SGM individuals experience worse physical and mental health than their heterosexual peers and face an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, substance abuse disorders, depression, and suicidal behavior. And the lack of access for SGM people to respectful, affirmative health care is well documented. Most LGBTQ individuals report having experienced discrimination by clinicians, including outright refusal of medical care, surveys have found. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one in four trans people reported not seeking necessary medical care because they feared being discriminated against. Meanwhile, eight U.S. states have enacted laws that restrict LGBTQ people’s rights, according to the Transgender Law Center.

Columbia Nursing has long been a leader in research on SGM health, co-founding the Program for the Study of LGBT Health in 2012, together with the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. In 2019, the school hosted the first National Nursing LGBTQ Health Summit to create a national health action plan to raise awareness of and improve LGBTQ health. 

“Dr. Hughes and her colleagues are conducting ground-breaking research that will further Columbia Nursing’s commitment to health equity and social justice,” says Lorraine Frazier, PhD, the dean of Columbia University School of Nursing and the senior vice president of Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Under her leadership, the center will train the next generation of researchers in this vital field and educate experienced investigators on the importance of SGM status for health.” 

The CSGMHR is funded by the Columbia University School of Nursing. The center’s research portfolio contains multiple funded studies, including several long-running studies supported by the National Institutes of Health that focus on:  

  • The potentially protective effects of social support on cognitive function in older LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ adults. 
  • Stress, hazardous alcohol use, and intimate partner violence among sexual minority women. 
  • The way sexual identity, adverse life experiences, and resilience affect cardiovascular risk in sexual minority women and their heterosexual sisters. 
  • How relationship characteristics affect alcohol use and, in turn, how alcohol use impacts relationships. 

View a complete list of CSGMHR’s research.