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Adding gray to the rainbow: NIA's support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender research

Kate Nagy
Kate NAGY,
Deputy Director, Office of Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation,
Office of Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation (OPAE)

While we are beginning to understand the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities through medical research, one area that needs attention is research on the health of older LGBT Americans.

Research on the aging of LGBT populations

Most of the data we have is based on small studies that are not nationally representative. Older bisexuals, transgender individuals, LGBT persons of color, and the “oldest old” (ages 85 and older) in these populations are significantly under-studied. We do know, however, that bisexuals and transgender people experience worse health outcomes across all domains. For example, transgender people are roughly ten times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

Efforts such as the recent NIA-supported Caring and Aging with Pride study, the first national, federally funded project examining LGBT aging and health, are providing us with the beginnings of a solid knowledge base—but we still have a long way to go.

Funding opportunities

The NIH LGBTI Research Coordinating Committee has reissued funding opportunity announcements (R01, R03, R21) on LGBT and Intersex Health. NIA participates in all three. So start writing!

We also participate in trans-NIH funding opportunity announcements (R01, R03, R21) supporting research to understand the role of stigma in health, life course development, and aging, both in the U.S. and globally, and research to test interventions that might prevent or reduce the impact of stigma at the individual, community, health care system, and policy levels. Although these opportunities aren’t specific to LGBT populations, such research is relevant, particularly for older lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transpeople whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity has been stigmatized for much of their lives.

NIH LGBTI activities

Recognizing the critical need for more information on the health of LGBT people of all ages, the NIH commissioned an Institute of Medicine study in 2009. In its 2011 report, The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Greater Understanding, the IOM committee recommended several steps.

The NIH LGBTI Research Coordinating Committee was formed in response to these recommendations, to:

  • develop and coordinate potential research and training activities
  • assess relevant past and ongoing activities across NIH
  • develop recommendations for new activities focused on research and training

I help to lead this group. The NIH Committee’s initial report, including a comprehensive analysis of NIH activities in this area, can be found here (PDF 0.66 MB).

NIH strategic plan for research on LGBTI populations in progress

The Committee is currently developing the first-ever NIH strategic plan for research on LGBTI populations. We’re doing this by gathering as much information as we can, through:

  • analyses of the NIH and individual Institute research portfolios
  • responses to a formal Request for Information that we issued last fall
  • multiple listening sessions, during which we meet with key stakeholders in the LGBTI communities to gain input on issues like training and transgender health research

We anticipate that the Plan will be completed soon. It will inform our research planning and serve as a road map for NIH to ensure that the benefits of publicly funded research extend to all Americans.

Here is more information on NIH research on LGBT populations.

Look at recently published results of NIH-funded research in this area. What gaps remain in our scientific knowledge? Join the conversation by commenting below.


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