NIH to Spend More Studying ‘Sexual Minority’ Health

Past studies include why lesbians are obese, how transwomen use Facebook

Members of the LGBT movement hold a gay pride flag as they attend a march to mark the International Day Against Homophobia in Managua, Nicaragua
May 19, 2015

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is set to spend more money researching the health of sexual minorities, according to a grant announcement Monday.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals will be the subject of future studies announced by the agency, which are anticipated to involve numerous grants of up to $400,000 each.

"The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is committed to supporting research that will increase scientific understanding of the health status of diverse population groups and thereby improve the effectiveness of health interventions and services for individuals within those groups," the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency said in a funding opportunity announcement (FOA). "Priority is placed on understudied populations with distinctive health risk profiles."

The NIH said the studies would focus on "social, behavioral, clinical, and services research."

Past taxpayer-funded behavioral research in this area have included $2.87 million to study why lesbians are obese, $692,697 to find out why gay men get syphilis in Peru, and $105,066 spent following 16 schizophrenic LGBT Canadians around Toronto to study their community experiences.

Others include a $718,770 study of postpartum depression in "invisible sexual minority women," $33,341 to find out if same-sex couples live close to tobacco shops, $194,788 to observe how transwomen use Facebook, and $226,364 to give "gender affirmation" to jailed transwomen in San Francisco.

Similar studies will likely be approved due to the new grant announcement. While the NIH said the number of projects is "contingent upon NIH appropriations and the submission of a sufficient number of meritorious applications," if the agency approves at least three projects the costs could exceed $1 million. The previously mentioned studies have cost $4,152,461.

"Applicants may request a maximum of $300,000 total direct costs plus applicable Facilities & Administrative (F&A) for the entire project period of up to three years," the document said.

Additional funding can be added if multiple recipients receive a grant to work on the same project.

"As with previous versions of this FOA, the actual number of awards and level of funding will be dependent upon NIH appropriations and a sufficient number of meritorious applications," the NIH said in a statement to the Free Beacon. "Given the types of award mechanisms that are included in this effort (R01, R03, R15, and R21) the individual award amounts could range up to $400K; however, we cannot estimate the number of awards that will be issued or the award amounts at this time."

Taxpayer funding will be available to private and public universities and colleges, who have until September to apply.

The NIH said it is seeking additional studies on LGBT issues because of a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, which said current scientific knowledge is "sparse and that substantial research is needed."

The NIH used the terms "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex populations," though they said applicants could use "other classification frameworks and terminologies as appropriate for their proposed research."

The main areas of research will include "basic social and behavioral science studies addressing the processes involved as individuals discover, uncover, address and/or adapt to their sexual orientation and claim or do not claim identity."

The NIH is seeking studies on young and old sexual minorities on numerous topics, including bullying, stigmatization, "partner selection," "family structures," and "sexual practices."

"Research on how the health and health outcomes of SGM individuals are colored by interpersonal relationships, social networks, religious affiliations, and by family relationships, structure, and processes," is also sought, the NIH said. "This includes research on how characteristics of family or origin affects the process and health consequences of ‘coming out.’"

Another idea for a study is comparing "effectiveness of treatment approaches to change voice to match individuals' chosen gender."