October 27, 2023
By Rachel Morrow, Gillings School Communications Fellow
In Durham County, adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ+) lack social support, face more discrimination and experience higher rates of loneliness. These could also lead to inequities in physical and mental health such as social phobia, depression, preventable diseases, substance use and even suicide.
A recent master’s paper by Sara Beth Cooper, MPH, Caroline Dugan, MPH, RT(T), and Kayla Rubenstein, MPH, recent alumnae in the Public Health Leadership Program from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has proposed a program to address these challenges.
The program aims to reduce these health disparities by building intergenerational relationships among LGBTQ+ adults in Durham County, North Carolina, through art and cultural events.
Although LGBTQ+ people make up a small percentage of Durham’s population, Cooper explains that the group chose to focus on the population because they “have not received the attention that they need, and disproportionately experience poor health, substance use, mental health issues, poverty and racism.”
This program is an essential part of public health, according to Cooper, because “in order for all of our communities to be truly healthy, we need to focus on the most marginalized people. When those most underserved groups have their needs met, everyone will end up getting the help they need.”
Through collaboration with the Durham County Public Health Department, LGBTQ Center of Durham and other LGBTQ+ affirming organizations, this program will establish community building initiatives that can reduce isolation, promote social connectedness, and improve emotional and physical health.
As part of the proposal, the team laid out steps to implement the program, which include focus groups, status reports and evaluation surveys to ensure community engagement and program effectiveness. Additionally, they recommend establishing a task force dedicated to addressing loneliness among LGBTQ+ adults to demonstrate Durham County’s commitment to this cause.
In the future, Cooper hopes to see more political action to protect LGBTQ+ adults and more support for LGBTQ+ youth in particular. “I think that for LGBTQ+ people who are entering adulthood, there’s a harder transition compared to their heterosexual/cisgender peers. A lot of LGBTQ+ young adults have a hard time envisioning what their adult life is going to look like because there isn’t much positive representation. I hope that a program like this, that is catered specifically for adults, will help LGBTQ+ young people who are transitioning into adulthood be able to really see that it does get better and that there is positive representation.”
“Everything about this project was joyful for me,” Cooper reflects. “As an LGBTQ+ person, I used almost every assignment at Gillings as an opportunity to focus on LGBTQ+ people. I was really pumped to focus on a project that was geared towards my special interests. Also, my teammates were great, and it was fulfilling for me to work with other public health professionals who were open to exploring the topic. And then lastly, it was really cool and joyful to see the number and quality of resources that Durham has to offer for the LGBTQ+ community.”
The team did not submit this project to Durham County but they do hope that other future Gillings students might be interested in working to implement the project in partnership with Durham County.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.