Reducing Health Disparities with LGBTQ Youth of Color: An Update

The Reducing Health Disparities with LGBTQ Youth of Color team at The Fenway Institute hit the ground running in the early months of 2014 to finalize and implement the second phase of our Needs Assessment: a community survey designed to learn more about positive youth development and protective factors in LGBTQ youth of color, with a particular focus on mental health. Our survey is the result of collaboration between many talented and dedicated people. Dr. Kerith Conron took the lead in constructing the survey, drawing on measures commonly used in the LGBTQ youth literature, with multiple rounds of feedback and consultation from our Scientific Advisory Group comprised of nationwide experts in LGBTQ youth research. Our Organizational and Youth Community Advisory Boards helped determine the specific topics and constructs assessed in the survey through reviewing health disparities data over the course of the project’s first year and engaging in brainstorms and discussions on the risk and protective factors that are most critical to the health of LGBTQ youth of color. Finally, the survey went through two rounds of pilot testing by LGBTQ people of color working at Fenway Health who were as close as possible to the intended age range of the survey. These pilot testing sessions were essential in ensuring that our survey would be as comprehensible and well-received as possible by LGBTQ youth of color in the community. The progress we have made in this research initiative would not be possible without the essential work of the people described above. At the end of this extensive survey development process, we finally received IRB approval in February, just in time for our first major recruitment event, BAGLY’s annual Kiki Ball!

The Kiki Ball was extremely well-attended with over 100 participants, the vast majority of whom were eligible to take our survey.  Our recruitment team consisted of Johannes Mosquera Wilson, the project’s Study Coordinator, along with BAGLY and Boston GLASS staff Jessica Flaherty and Hope Freeman, who are Lead Interventionists on the project. Last, but certainly not least, we had a team of trained youth Field Assistants who helped to promote the survey at the Ball, describe it to potential participants, and direct them to Fenway staff if they were interested in participating. Many Field Assistants were youth staff at BAGLY or members of Fenway’s Youth Community Advisory Board, as well as prominent members of the Ballroom community. All were trained in the basics of research ethics, research design, and our survey protocol. Prior to the Ball, Johannes met with the event’s organizers to propose our recruitment plan and address any questions or concerns they had about collecting surveys at the event. The organizers were enthusiastic about our presence and made multiple announcements about our survey throughout the event, which drew numerous participants to our table. All in all, it was a great success, and an excellent way to kick off our data collection while also strengthening our ties with Boston’s Ballroom community. Our work within the Ballroom community continued the following week at BAGLY’s monthly mini function, which we plan to attend each month.

Our next two major recruitment events were conducted at kick-off events for new affinity groups at BAGLY- one for Asian/Pacific Islander (API) LGBTQ youth, and another for young queer and trans women. In late March, Fenway and BAGLY staff co-organized a panel discussion on health disparities in API LGBTQ youth featuring social justice and health workers from organizations such as the Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Massachusetts Asian/Pacific Islanders for Health, Providence Youth Student Movement, and The Genki Spark. Throughout the first phase of our Needs Assessment, the research team and our CABs determined that one of the major gaps in the data on LGBTQ youth of color is API youth. We sought to help fill this gap while also supplementing and collaborating with the new affinity group for API LGBTQ youth at BAGLY called QTYPAD (Queer and Trans Youth of Pan-Asian Descent). Following a brief presentation on API LGBTQ youth health disparities by Johannes, panelists spoke about the lack of data on API health in general, and the major health issues and social determinants they grappled with in their work. They also discussed the ways in which their organizations demonstrated and promoted API LGBTQ resiliency in the face of health inequities. Throughout the panel, we offered the event attendees the opportunity to take our survey. The event was successful both in collecting surveys as well as in building relationships with other local API LGBTQ youth organizations such as MAP for Health. We were also able to recruit a number of Seeds for our Respondent Driven Sampling plan, which should help us reach LGBTQ API youth who are not currently engaged in community based organizations.

The second kickoff event we attended was for BAGLY’s new affinity group for young queer and trans women known as FreeBefore11. We pursued a similar strategy for this event as we did with the QTYPAD event. Members of the research team met with BAGLY’s Women’s Community Organizer and other BAGLY youth involved in planning the kickoff event in order to discuss any potential questions or concerns around collecting surveys at the event. Field Assistants as well as Fenway staff were present to promote the survey at the event. We will continue to attend FreeBefore11, QTYPAD, and other BAGLY programming on a regular basis to collect surveys and to continue promoting conversations and action around LGBTQ youth of color health disparities.

Currently, we are making preparations for our summer recruitment activities. We will be collaborating with BAGLY on a workshop series in a number of high schools in the Boston Public School district on transgender student rights, while also making announcements about and distributing flyers for our survey at these workshops. This will assist us in making sure that younger participants (ages 13-18) are included in the survey, and thus, in the development of our intervention. In a few weeks, we plan to collect surveys at Massachusetts Youth Pride and the annual BAGLY Prom, and we will be working closely with BAGLY staff and our Community Advisory Board members on a recruitment plan for the day’s events. We also plan to have a presence at Boston Pride in June, the Trans Youth Summit in July, and other summer programming for youth of color in the Boston area. We plan to draw on our extensive community knowledge of these events through BAGLY, GLASS, and our Community Advisory Boards in order to determine the best strategy for reaching our recruitment goals, particularly for transgender, Asian/Pacific Islander, and out-of-school youth, as well as youth ages 19-25.

Have questions or want to know more? Email Johannes at

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