KOKOMO, Ind. – What are the specific mental and physical health care needs of Howard County’s LGBTQ+ community? What resources are available to help, and what’s missing?
When Ghadah Alshuwaiyer, assistant professor of health sciences at Indiana University Kokomo, began considering those questions, she was surprised to learn there was no previously existing data to mine for answers.
With a grant from the campus’s Applied and Community Research Center, she’s planning to meet with focus groups of LGBGTQ+ residents to ask about those needs, in partnership with local nonprofit Kokomo Pride. The data she gathers can then be used to develop recommendations for resources already in place, and plans to bring in what’s needed.
“We wanted to have an evidence-based plan done, doing research,” said Alshuwaiyer. “This will help us concentrate on this community’s needs, from their perspective, not ours. We can fill in the holes where services are not available, to bridge those gaps and provide a better quality of life for them.
“This is something I’m really interested in,” she continued. “It aligns with my research, and I’m an ally.”
From her earlier research in LGBTQ+ health, Alshuwaiyer knows there are some health risks that are generally known, such as being at higher risk of having a chronic disease, stress, cardiovascular disease, depression, suicide, and/or alcohol dependence. Her focus is to find out what the specific challenges are locally.
“There are so many issues we want to know and understand,” she said, noting they will ask if those participating about access to health care, ability to maintain employment and housing, and if they feel they’ve faced discrimination because of their gender or sexual identity.
“We want to know how they are utilizing health care in the community, and if they believe their doctors understand their needs, and they can talk about their concerns without feeling judged,” she said. “We also want to know about their access to basic needs and services, and safety, and if they grew up in a household that was positive and affirming toward sexual orientation and gender identity.”
She also wants to focus on mental health care needs, to make sure those are being met, because of the heightened risk of suicide among transgender individuals in particular.
“We need to educate people that it’s OK to talk, to tell what you need so we can help,” she said.
She hopes to meet with focus groups this semester, noting she has more than enough people to participate.
Alshuwaiyer’s research focus has included LGBTQ+ issues since she was on a multidisciplinary team studying documents of transgender people seeking asylum in the United States, while earning her Ph.D. in health and exercise science. Those papers told the stories of abuse in their home countries that was so horrific, Alshuwaiyer recalls the team receiving therapy to help them handle their own emotions reading them.
“That was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “We have our own perceptions of what they suffer, but when you read their testimony, it’s worse than you can imagine. That was what got me into researching and reading more about it, so I could find ways to help.
“I think this project is going to be a step in the right direction,” Alshuwaiyer said. “Hopefully, we can provide more insight about what the LGBTQ+ community needs in Howard County.”
Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.