Building a Research Career Focused on a Stigmatized and Marginalized Population Group: Alcohol Use among Sexual Minority Women
Hughes, Tonda L.
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Session presented on Saturday, July 25, 2015: Substantial health disparities related to sexual orientation are now well documented, e.g., in major reports from the U.S. including Healthy People 2020 and the Institute of Medicine. Some of the largest disparities have been found in comparisons of sexual minority and heterosexual women's use of alcohol. At nearly every developmental stage sexual minority women (SMW) are substantially more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to drink, to drink heavily, and to experience alcohol-related consequences. Reasons for SMW's disproportionately high rates of hazardous drinking are poorly understood - largely because so little research has been devoted to this topic. For example, in a recent review of non-HIV/AIDS studies funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, just 0.1% focused on sexual minorities; of these, 13.5% included SMW (in contrast to 86% focusing on sexual minority men); very few studies focused on alcohol use. Similarly, a review of the nursing literature published between 2005 and 2009 found that 0.16% of articles published in the top 10 nursing journals addressed any topic related to sexual minorities - and most of these were written by nursing authors outside the U.S. Like many graduate students and junior nursing faculty members I was discouraged from focusing my program of research on sexual minority health by well-meaning senior faculty and mentors. Concerns were that it would be difficult to reach this population, that it would be hard to publish this research, that there would be limited possibilities of funding, and that it could negatively affect my prospects for promotion and tenure. In this presentation I will describe how I became interested in SMW's health and the steps that I took in building a successful research career focused on alcohol use among SMW. I will describe methodological limitations of research related to sexual minority women's drinking and how I have attempted to address these limitations in my work. I will highlight some of the most important and interesting findings from my 15-year longitudinal study as well as findings from other studies of SMW's health in the U.S. and in Australia that I have been part of to illustrate the current state of the science on this important women's health and minority health topic.