New Report Calls for More Comprehensive Data on LGBTQI+ Well-Being

UMass Amherst Professor M.V. Lee Badgett a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that released the report
M.V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics at UMass Amherst
M.V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics at UMass Amherst

More Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or other non-binary identities (LGBTQI+) than ever before, but significant gaps remain in data collection and understanding of their well-being, says a new report from a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee that includes M.V. Lee Badgett, economics and public policy.

These gaps have led to a dearth of programming and services that address the specific needs of sexual and gender diverse individuals — who the report defines as individuals who exhibit attractions and behaviors that do not align with heterosexual or traditional gender norms. The report says government agencies, private entities, and others need to change their data collection systems to better capture the needs of this varied community.

The report, “Understanding the Well-Being of LGBTQI+ Populations,” says the makeup of the LGBTQI+ community has undergone dramatic changes in the past decade. As more young people, women, bisexual people and racial and ethnic minorities identify as part of the sexual and gender diverse population, research needs to keep pace by better measuring its unique and varied nature. Many national surveys lack questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Intersex, bisexual and transgender populations in particular continue to be left out of important datasets.

In 2011 the National Academies published “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People,” a landmark report used frequently by researchers, educators, attorneys, health care professionals, community groups and federal agencies. The new report provides an updated and expanded examination — highlighting challenges faced by LGBTQI+ individuals and threats to their well-being, and recommending a path forward for the research community. It focuses on eight domains of well-being: the effects of various laws and the legal system on SGD populations; the effects of various public policies and structural stigma; community and civic engagement; families and social relationships; education, including school climate and level of attainment; economic experiences (e.g., employment, compensation, and housing); physical and mental health; and health care access and gender-affirming interventions.

Some of the report’s recommendations include:

  • Public and private funders should prioritize research into the health and well-being of sexual and gender diverse people, as well as research on development, implementation, and evaluation of services and programs that will directly benefit these populations.
  • The agencies and entities that make up the federal statistical system should add measures of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status to data collection efforts, such as surveys, clinical records, or administrative records.
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should reconvene the Federal Interagency Working Group on Improving Measurement of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Federal Surveys, and direct it to develop government-wide standards for data collection on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.
  • Federal statistical agencies should fund new research to improve measurement tools so that they capture the full range of sexual and gender diversity in the United States.
  • Funders should support studies using methods and sampling techniques that could improve the study of subgroups, such as transgender women of color, Native American Two-Spirit people and people with intersex traits.
  • The OMB convene funders should address problems in accessing and linking datasets housed across different agencies and organizations.

The study — undertaken by the Committee on Understanding the Well-Being of Sexual and Gender Diverse Populations — was sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Gilead Sciences, National Institutes of Health, TAWANI Foundation and the Tegan and Sara Foundation.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

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