As evaluators with combined experience and expertise in infectious diseases epidemiology, culturally responsive evaluation (CRE), and the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and more) populations, the ability of a viral pandemic to devastate marginalized communities isn’t a novel concept for us. As our team turns our attention from our HIV program evaluation work to understanding how this pandemic is impacting LGBTQ+ people – especially LGBTQ+ people of color – the amount of work that remains to be done to ensure our systems are appropriately responsive to the needs of marginalized communities is stark. However, we believe that we can look to CRE as a bright spot with the potential to guide our work to champion equity for LGBTQ+ populations – and other marginalized groups – during this crisis.
Following in the trailblazing footsteps of Dr. Robin Miller, we have long been vocal proponents of the need to infuse culturally responsive LGBTQ+ evaluation into all that we do, regardless of the intervention, program, or initiative. We have given workshops at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) Conference, the Hawai’i-Pacific Evaluation Association (H-PEA) Conference, and the AEA Summer Institute, among others, on why LGBTQ+ evaluation is important, how to incorporate it into program evaluation, and how to meaningfully engage with the LGBTQ+ community. Although our work has primarily focused on disparities in HIV, which is much more common in men who have sex with men and transgender women, particularly those who are also young, Black, and/or Latinx, research tells us that nearly all chronic and infectious diseases are more predominant among LGBTQ+ individuals due to a concomitance of factors at all levels of our society that place LGBTQ+ people at greater risk for poor health. The precise impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ communities is understudied to date, yet clear emerging evidence demonstrates that these populations are likely to suffer disproportionately during this pandemic. Therefore, we believe it is more important now than ever to apply our CRE skills to serve in service of LGBTQ+ people’s health and wellbeing.
So, how exactly can CRE help? Simply by being a guiding framework for us to apply to our work. There are real opportunities for those of us evaluating programs – regardless of whether those programs are providing COVID-19 or public health related services – to step up and speak out to ensure no community suffers inequitably from this virus. We’ve laid out a few key things that each of us can do below, guided by our own CRE practice, which we encourage everyone to keep in mind to responsively serve LGBTQ+ populations:
1.Ensure your evaluation comprehensively assesses demographics, and tailors any response appropriately. This suggestion is CRE at its core. Unfortunately, our work has demonstrated that very few evaluations collect data on sexual orientation or gender identity. If you don’t know that participants in your evaluation identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or potentially hold multiple marginalized minority identities, you will be unable to adequately address their needs. If you’re not sure where to start, see what our team had to say about LGBTQ+ demographic data collection and considerations for intersectionally-minded work with LGBTQ+ populations on the AEA365 blog.
2.Avoid exclusionary practices. Take this as an opportunity to educate yourself and think critically about how your work could better include LGBTQ+ people. More than just avoiding exclusion – what could you be doing to actively include LGBTQ+ people?
3.Talk to the community. Though we ourselves are members of the LGBTQ+ community, we feel strongly that being LGBTQ+ is by no means a requirement to conduct LGBTQ+ CRE. However, partnering with community leaders can be an extraordinarily helpful approach no matter your background. Remember, give community leadership roles in your work, and be sure to compensate fairly! Plus, just because someone is LGBTQ+ doesn’t mean they’re an LGBTQ+ expert – but there are plenty of LGBTQ+ people out there who are!
4.Speak out as allies. Now more than ever, evaluation’s political inherency must be central. At a time when those in power are actively seeking to take actions that would place the health of LGBTQ+ people at dire risk, we have a duty as evaluators to use our platform in every way we can to resist this. Be loud and firm in your solidarity with LGBTQ+ people, now and always.
5.Show up outside the evaluation. Many of us enjoy a level of job security well beyond that of the marginalized communities we often partner with. Now is an excellent opportunity to engage in the practice of mutual aid by redistributing resources from those of us who enjoy greater privilege, to those who don’t. Our team has recently launched a new initiative to direct recurring monthly donations to Brave Space Alliance, a Black-led, trans-led organization and research evaluation partner of ours serving LGBTQ+ people of color on Chicago’s South Side. You can learn more about their COVID-19 response and donate here, or you can find a group in your community to support in a similar way. Now is the time for us to show up for each other in every way we, as CREA family and more.
While COVID-19 has the potential to cause serious devastation for marginalized and oppressed communities, potential is not an inevitability. We have an opportunity to resist the systems and structures that create inequities in health and lead the way in understanding and meeting the needs of vulnerable populations. We hope you’ll join us in ensuring that no community is disproportionately impacted by this, or any pandemic. If you want to talk more about LGBTQ+ CRE, and how we can be part of the solution to health inequity, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us here:
BY: Gregory Phillips II and Dylan Felt
The Evaluation, Data Integration, and Technical Assistance (EDIT) Program at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing
firstname.lastname@example.org | @epiglpii
email@example.com | @mxs_felt
EDIT@northwestern.edu | @EDITatNU