Eliseo Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparities, said in a statement Thursday the decision “marks an important and necessary step in realizing NIH’s mission to advance the health of all Americans.”
“Mounting evidence indicates that SGM populations have less access to health care and higher burdens of certain diseases, such as depression, cancer and HIV/AIDS,” Pérez-Stable said. “But the extent and causes of health disparities are not fully understood, and research on how to close these gaps is lacking.”
The formal designation of the LGBT population is sexual and gender minorities (SGM), which NIH says includes LGBT people as well as “those whose sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, or reproductive development varies from traditional, societal, cultural or physiological norms.”
Kellan Baker, senior fellow with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement the designation is important because as LGBT people become more visible, “assaults on their dignity, health and well-being are on the rise.”
“These disparities are then exacerbated by discrimination at the hands of health care providers,” Baker said. “Discrimination and disparities are especially harmful to LGBT communities of color and others who live at the intersections of multiple marginalized communities.”
The designation builds on earlier steps the NIH has taken to advance health research for LGBT people. In 2011, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine published an NIH-commissioned report that found LGBT people face physical and health challenges in childhood, adulthood and later years. As a result of the report, NIH extended its research portfolio and created the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO), which coordinates NIH-supported activities on LGBT health issues.
Although NIH has already considered LGBT health a priority area for research, Baker said the new designation provides a home within the NIMID to localize that research.
Pointing to research NIHID has done on young gay and bisexual men of color and HIV/AIDS, Baker said the new designation will also allow for increased research into transgender health.
“This will allow more investigators, more researchers to put together proposals for looking at trans health disparities and take them to NIH and seek support for figuring out what’s the magnitude of these disparities, what are interventions that hope to close them and what can we do to improve the health and well-being of the trans population,” Baker said.