News | Academics

Psychiatry department launches LGBT health initiative

  • RESEARCH, RESPOND | Anke Ehrhardt, a professor of medical psychology and the director of the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at the psychiatry department, said that many faculty members were interested in participating in the initiative.

Columbia’s psychiatry department is hoping to develop better health coverage for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people through a new research program.

Launched last month, the department’s initiative aims to produce policy-relevant research, develop medical and mental-health services, promote outreach in local communities, and educate students and practitioners on LGBT health.

Anke Ehrhardt, a professor of medical psychology and the director of the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at the psychiatry department, is leading the initiative with Walter Bockting, a professor of medical psychology at the School of Nursing.

The initiative also garnered support from the Broadway production “Kinky Boots,” which on Wednesday hosted a special production and a cocktail fundraiser featuring Cyndi Lauper, LGBT activist and the show’s composer, and Harvey Fierstein, the Tony-award winning actor and playwright.

Lauper and Fierstein said in a statement, “We have both been deeply involved in advancing equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community for decades, so we know good people when we see them.”

“We believe this new program will not only strengthen the LGBT community, but all of New York,” they said.

Bockting noted that the growing interest in LGBT advocacy on a national scale makes this an ideal time to launch the institute.

“Now that we’re here, people look us up, seek us out, and want to come to Columbia in order to specialize in this area,” Bockting said.

The idea for the initiative came after an Institute of Medicine report, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that researchers still have a lot to learn about the diversity of LGBT populations.

“It was really a major kind of alarm that the LGBT population is at very high risk, not only for HIV, but for health and mental health concerns,” Ehrhardt said.

Last fall, Ehrhardt and School of Nursing Dean Bobbie Berkowitz recruited Bockting, who sat on the IOM’s LGBT research committee, to work on the initiative.

Ehrhardt and Bockting said that many faculty members from CUMC and the larger University community expressed interest in working on the initiative.

“Uniformly, I would say, there’s an open door of people who have recognized this as a major issue and want to participate,” Ehrhardt said.

Now that the initiative has launched, Ehrhardt and Bocking are working to secure funding and to build up a staff to begin researching policy.

According to Bockting, the initiative will allow for “expert meetings of stakeholders and bring researchers, policymakers, and practitioners together to hammer out priorities.”

“We’re looking to identify, through these meetings, what the next big policy issues are, so by the time that we have conducted this research, our findings are at the right time to inform policy,” Bockting said.

In addition to working with policymakers, Ehrhardt and Bockting will work closely with local LGBT communities.

“We are committed to working with the organizations outside of the University that are committed to addressing these issues,” Bockting said.

Ehrhardt and Bockting hope that they can ultimately build a full LGBT research institute at Columbia.

Ehrhardt said that the center would follow the model of Columbia’s HIV Prevention & Treatment Research Center, where researchers divide into “cores of expertise” to specialize in different areas.

Compared to an initiative, a fully-fledged center could create more opportunities to influence the curriculum for graduate students interested in LGBT health, according to Ehrhardt.

“We could have electives, fellowships—all of that is possible,” she said.

Bockting believes that bringing more researchers interested in LGBT health to Columbia and creating a supportive infrastructure for them are the keys to creating an actual center.

“A core, bringing people together, could help us figure it out to test a new way to sample these populations,” Bockting said.

samantha.cooney@columbiaspectator.com | @sammcooney

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Anonymous posted on

Is gay health different from general health? Just wondering?

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