June 28, 2021
Why Academia Needs to Consider the 2SLGBTQIA+ Community
At some point, you have probably heard, seen, or read about the 2SLGBTQIA+ community (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and + to be inclusive of many more sexual and gender identities) 1. While academia is becoming better at recognizing and being aware of sexual and gender diversity as a result of the activism of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, much of academia still fails to consider how important their perspectives are. By neglecting the perspectives and experiences of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals, academia is not only excluding people, but it is missing out on a lot of useful information that could inform research and practice.
As a 2SLGBTQIA+ psychology graduate student, I have to acknowledge that my perspective on how academia considers the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is skewed towards my field (i.e., psychology). I also know that many fields, including psychology,2 have made progress towards practices and guidelines that are inclusive of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals. Still, it takes a while to break down long-existing prejudice and effectively change practice in any field, and thus we must continue to work towards full inclusion of all people across academia. For example, in terms of research with humans, one persisting problem is inconsistent differentiation of “gender” (a socially constructed part of identity) and “sex” (biological differentiation based on chromosomes).3, 4 These are not equal, and both influence our mental and physical health in very different ways.5 By neglecting to consider sex and gender separately, researchers cannot make accurate conclusions. For instance, there are known psychological tests where we see differences between males and females, but – because they did not assess sex and gender separately (and are often not clear whether they are assessing sex or gender) – researchers can only speculate on why this is. It could be because males and females have inherent biological differences that leads to differences in test scores (sex), or because of differences in how society treats men and women (gender). To fully understand these differences, researchers should prepare a Sex and Gender-Based Analysis Plus (SGBA+)6 plan for all analyses and determine ahead of time whether they need to measure assigned sex-at-birth (male, female, other); gender (e.g., man, woman, trans man, trans woman, non-binary, genderqueer, etc.); or both.
In addition to the impact of socio-cultural identity beyond biology, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community can also teach us a lot about areas including intersectionality, 7 stigma, cross-cultural differences, as well as community development and policy change. This can be done through appropriate and considerate community-engaged research. Meaningfully including the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is also important for practice. Despite increasing recognition and acknowledgement of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, training in psychology, counselling, medicine, and other areas often does not adequately prepare professionals to work with 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals.8 Given dozens of statistics showing that 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals have higher than average rates of mental illness (due to social stigma) with unique time courses and contributing factors,9 it is negligent for programs to not include more training on issues uniquely relevant to 2SLGBTQIA+ clients.
The current blog post only scratches the surface of issues faced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in academia and thus it is the reader’s responsibility to stay up to date on appropriate language usage and current events. My key take-away here is that actively considering the perspectives of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals could be incredibly informative for many fields. Interaction between the academic and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities has the potential to be mutually beneficial, breaking down prejudice through research and improving treatment for the many people in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community who struggle with mental and physical health issues. To do this, we must connect within and across our local communities and consider what we can do together and learn from each other.
1 – Alterative versions of this acronym exist which can include more or fewer sexualities and genders.
2 – American Psychological Association. (2011). Practice Guidelines for LGB Clients. https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/guidelines
3 – Torgrimson, B. N., & Minson, C. T. (2005). Sex and gender: What is the difference? Journal of Applied Physiology, 99(3), 785-787. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00376.2005
4 – Canadian Institutes of Health Research. (2020). What is gender? What is sex?. https://cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/48642.html
5 – Clayton, J. A., & Tannenbaum, C. (2016). Reporting sex, gender, or both in clinical research? JAMA, 316(18), 1863-1864. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.16405
6 – Government of Canada. (2021). Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+). https://women-gender-equality.canada.ca/en/gender-based-analysis-plus.html
7 – Another area to keep in mind is intersectionality, where many social categories overlap and interact including gender, race/ethnicity, class, and many others.
Parent, M.C., DeBlaere, C., & Moradi, B. (2013). Approaches to research on intersectionality: Perspectives on gender, LGBT, and racial/ethnic identities. Sex Roles, 68, 639-645. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1007/s11199-013-0283-2 (one of the many articles on this topic).
8 – Phillips, J. C., & Fischer, A. R. (1998). Graduate students’ training experiences with lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues. The Counselling Psychologist, 26(5), 712-734. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1177/0011000098265002 (one of the many studies on this topic).
9 - Cochran, S. (2001). Emerging issues in research on lesbians’ and gay men’s mental health: Does sexual orientation really matter? American Psychologist, 56, 622-642. Retrieved from http://ovidsp.ovid.com/ovidweb.cgi?T=JS&PAGE=reference&D=ovfte&NEWS=N&AN=00000487-200111000-00026.