In honor of Pride Month, Sarah McCarthy, PhD, the first professor endowed with LGBTQ health research at Magic City, reflects on the continuing need for health justice for LGBTQ communities, why tackling LGBTQ health is good for all, and its goals for the future.
Written by: Mary White
Media contact: Hannah Ecols
On December 1, 2021, the University of Alabama at the Birmingham School of Public Health appointed Sarah McCarthy, Ph.D., as the first holder of the Magic City LGBTQ Health Studies. This community-funded professorship was created to create a highly visible platform for promoting LGBTQ health research, education and services. Magic City’s professorship is the first of its kind in the country – especially significant in the deep south, where LGBTQ people have particularly limited access to quality services, although they are vulnerable to a number of health problems.
Why are LGBTQ communities particularly vulnerable?
Throughout their lives, LGBTQ communities have experienced many, increasing layers of marginalization that affect their way of life, work and play. For example, LGBTQ adolescents who may be isolated from their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity have a higher rate of homelessness or unstable housing. This often contributes to poor school attendance, which makes it difficult to complete education. Lack of education makes it difficult to find a job. Once at work, safeguards against discrimination on sexual orientation and identity are limited in Alabama.
These experiences contribute to daily stressors that “get under our skin” over time and affect our health. Even a person from LGTBQ who has insurance and can afford to receive care may have a negative experience with a provider, which causes a reluctance to have regular medical appointments and examinations. Older LGBTQ people face additional barriers to allow their partners and “families of choice” to be involved in difficult end-of-life decisions. Complicated throughout life, these experiences of stigma and discrimination are associated with higher levels of chronic and infectious diseases.
In an effort to serve as a leader in tackling LGBTQ inequalities, UAB’s School of Public Health established Magic City LGBTQ Health Studies Endowed Professorship in early 2017. Nearly 10 months after moving from Los Angeles to Birmingham, McCarthy is excited to celebrate her first Month of Pride in the Deep South. Here, she reflects on the continuing need for health justice for LGBTQ communities, why tackling LGBTQ health is good for all, and its goals for the future.
New position, new goals
Magic City LGBTQ Health Studies Endowed Professorship has three main components: research, teaching and learning, and community partnerships. These domains are different but deeply interconnected.
Community-based research requires building trust with community organizations; cooperation to identify their most pressing issues; developing research tools to document what is happening and determine how best to intervene; data collection and analysis; then disseminating the results jointly through a number of channels targeted at the specific population groups they are intended to reach.
McCarthy is initiating new research collaborations with organizations across the state, while focusing on LGBTQ research and activities that are already taking place at UAB. It is actively pursuing grant opportunities that would improve the relationships it builds with local organizations, thus creating a research portfolio focused on tackling the most pressing health inequalities expressed by LGBT people themselves.
McCarthy’s teaching and learning activities include developing an LGBTQ curriculum at all levels of education that integrates knowledge (eg LGBTQ health inequities) and skills (eg how to advocate for LGBTQ communities). The overall goal is to establish this training at UAB and to build capacity to address LGBTQ health, which will be much more advanced and cutting-edge than training anywhere else.
For the past seven months, McCarthy has been actively building relationships with LGBTQ-focused communities, not only within the UAB, but also in Birmingham, the state and the region. It sees the promotion of these relationships as a way to highlight at local and national level the extent to which UAB is already engaged in LGBTQ research and practice, while expanding a network of support to expand and strengthen LGBTQ work already in place. exists.
For example, she is collaborating with a UAB student who works with the Magic City Admissions Academy to conduct a study evaluating a number of health outcomes. The plan is to use an existing CDC study to examine the time differences between charter schools and national assessments to assess whether and how providing an LGBTQ-enhancing school environment can improve health. In the Southwest Alabama Inclusion Project, a number of groups are organizing to assess the needs of LGBTQ adults and youth in Mobile, Baldwin and surrounding counties. McCarthy is working with them to balance methods and their budgets to develop an approach that engages all LGBTQ people in the region.
McCarthy notes that in her experience as a researcher and advocate for addressing the unique needs of LGBTQ communities, both locally and globally, she has learned that time and trust are essential to successful participatory community research. In this way, it works to build these core relationships through listening, recognizing challenges and opportunities, and integrating research and practices to meet the needs identified by organizations that have long been involved in this work. And she uses her research skills to connect organizations that serve marginalized groups with financial resources to help improve the work they already do.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. McCarthy serve in the Magic City LGBTQ Health Studies Endowed Professorship,” said Paul Irwin, PhD, DrPH, Dean of the UAB School of Public Health. “It’s one thing to have a gifted professorship – a truly remarkable achievement – but it’s quite another to have someone like Dr. McCarthy here to lead this business. We see this as a turning point in the health and well-being of LGBTQ communities in Alabama.
A month of pride and the future
In 1979, nine years after the first parades were held in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the first Pride celebration, known as “Park Day”, was held in Birmingham. According to the special collections of the University of Alabama libraries, this collection later expanded to include a Pride Parade and became a week of events known as the Central Alabama Pride. Asked about her anticipation of her first month of pride in the deep south, McCarthy said she was most excited to connect with community partners and see the ways people celebrate here where people can dress and express themselves, as want.
“I’m learning that here in Alabama, to be out there as someone in the LGBTQ community or to be a defender of that community, you had to fight so hard for it,” McCarthy continued, “and there’s an incredible tenacity.” I’m excited to celebrate the LGBTQ community – yes, for June, but beyond. “
Looking to the future, McCarthy says he sees himself as a facilitator, building on the years of work that defenders, allies and researchers have already completed, leading to the creation of the Magic City LGBTQ Health Studies professor and the founding of LGBTQ organizations across the country. . As she says, she is going through decades of organizing that contribute to a unique moment, allowing her to highlight both the valuable contribution and the rich promise of LGBTQ efforts.