Bianca Wilson discusses LGBTQ rights in a speaker series that focuses on the historical roots and impact of race in shaping public policy as both a disciplinary field and as a course of action. October, 2022.
0:00:21.3 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Welcome to our third event of this year's Racial Foundations of Public Policy Speaker series hosted by the Center for Racial Justice at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. This event is also co-sponsored by the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity. I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Director of the Center for Racial Justice, Interim Dean of the Ford School and Professor of Public Policy and Sociology here at U of M. At the Ford School and the CRJ, we seek a world in which people are able to achieve their full human potential regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other categories that have been used to divide and systematically marginalize. We train leaders here who understand the critical role of public policy in improving our world. We recognize the power of public policy to bolster or undercut our life opportunities and experiences, and we see policy analysis as a critically important tool for us to measure, reflect, historically examine, and help us define the way forward.
0:01:30.8 CW: This Racial Foundations of Public Policy series augments the work that is already being done at the Ford School in the area of social equity. At the Center for Racial Justice, we also seek to use evidence-based solutions and support the change makers who advocate for sound, just and fair public policies. We take an intersectional approach seeking to expand knowledge and highlight strategies and tools that address the complex intersections between public policy and categories such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. As we examine the fraught histories and consequences of some of our policies and the transformative power of others, we learn a valuable lesson. Effective and just public policy can only be achieved if we bring diverse perspectives to the table. This fall, the CRJ will feature a cadre of scholars to deliver virtual presentations on the historical roots and contemporary currents of race in reproductive justice, health policy, LGBTQ rights, and housing policy.
0:02:36.6 CW: Our esteemed speakers for the series included Melissa Murray from NYU, Stephen Thrasher from Northwestern. Both of those sessions are currently online. Check us out on the CRJ website. Today we have Bianca Wilson, and soon we'll hear from John Robinson from Princeton. We encourage you to visit the Ford School YouTube channel as well to find recordings of the previous events and to join us for our final event on Thursday, November 10th with Dr. John Robinson. Now, I am delighted to introduce to you today's speaker, Dr. Bianca Wilson. Dr. Wilson is a senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute, a sexual orientation and gender identity research center within the UCLA Law School. She earned a doctorate in psychology from the Community and Prevention Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in statistics, methods, and measurement. She also received post-doctoral training at the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies in the UCSF Lesbian Health and Research Center.
0:03:47.3 CW: Her research focuses on the relationships between culture, oppression and health. In addition to publications representing over 20 years of work in HIV prevention among gay and bisexual male youth, her empirical and theoretical work on health issues among queer women of color have been included in the International Handbook on Sexuality, Health and Rights, and the Handbook of Psychology and Sexual Orientation. Further, she co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Lesbian Studies that featured a multidisciplinary collection of empirical and creative works from the perspectives of black lesbians in the US, Caribbean, and South Africa. She also published the most comprehensive report on the health and economic wellbeing of LGBTQ women and girls in the United States. Her research, which we'll talk about today, examines LGBTQ economic instability and the demographics of foster youth and youth in juvenile custody with a focus on the ways in which sexual orientation and gender identity expression play a role in these systems.
0:04:52.9 CW: Notably, she was the lead investigator on the first study to establish population estimates on how LGBTQ youth are in foster care and she's led similar work in juvenile criminalization. She's also led the largest qualitative study of the life and needs of LGBTQ people experiencing economic insecurity. Acknowledging the impact of all of this work, she was awarded the Distinguished Contribution to Public Policy Award by the American Psychological Association division on the psychology of sexual orientation and gender diversity. So your biography, Dr. Wilson, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome. It is wonderful to have you here.
0:05:37.8 Dr. Bianca Wilson.: Thank you, thank you so much for inviting me to this discussion.
0:05:41.3 CW: Yes, and I'm so excited, and I really wanted to linger over your biography because this conversation around public policy, particularly as it relates to LGBTQ populations, some might assume that there hasn't been a lot of work done when in fact, listening to your biography, and we know the biographies of many other scholars, there has been work done. So I wonder if you can start by telling us about this collective that you're a part of, the Williams Institute. Tell us more about that intellectual hub for work at the intersection of public policy and LGBTQ issues.
0:06:21.1 DW: Yes, absolutely. So the Williams Institute is an interdisciplinary research center. We're a collection of lawyers and then kind of a diverse set of social scientists over the history of the institute, including public policy folks, sociologists, demographers, economists, psychologists, public health, that arena that I'm probably more situated in, where the idea really... The folks who started the center really identify that part of making good LGBT-related public policy meant the need for data and just factual information to combat myths at the time, and so... By no means is the Williams Institute the beginning of LGBT research in the US or globally, but it really was a shift in the application of particularly big data, data on population-level data used to document the size of the population, and how that was relevant to thinking about the potential impact of both negative and positive public policies, and also then the characteristics of the population, so it remains as an independent research center, obviously with LGBT social justice issues in mind, but in the interest of saying empirical work and a combination of legal and social science scholarship has a role in informing the public discourse so that good policies can be made.
0:08:12.4 CW: And I wonder if you can talk about the importance of these large population level data collection efforts when we think about large representative surveys and panel studies and all kinds of ways in which so much of how we make arguments about public policy, how we make arguments about the needs of communities, really, it turns on the idea of access to data. And one of the things that really strikes me about your work and the work of the Williams Institute is the way in which there has been an absence, not on the scholarship on LGBTQ people, but on the large kind of survey-based data gathering efforts that often inform public policy. So I wonder if you can talk us through that, whether we're thinking about the census, whether we're thinking about research-driven surveys, help us understand how we think about the needs of a population when we've been so lacking in collecting large representative data on a population.
0:09:30.8 DW: Yeah, definitely. I think you indicated this already, that really data-informed policy making intended to benefit LGBT people, intended to address inequities among LGBT people requires data on LGBT people, and to that end, even in the absence of widespread inclusion in federal data collection efforts, of course, community-based research investigative investigator-initiated research through academics have done their part along the way to try to highlight that sexual orientation and gender identity matter in the economic, health and overall social experiences of people in the US. But as you know, data by those federally-sponsored surveys is given a high priority for... Is considered particularly important in having an impact on policy, so a lot of advocacy has been ongoing to increase the level of data collection at that... By federal agencies, by state agencies.
0:10:57.9 DW: So it's interesting, this history, 'cause the inclusion of sexual orientation in particular gender identity has kind of come along later, but the inclusion of sexual orientation as a demographic variable in at least some state-sponsored surveys is not exactly new. This has been demonstrated since early 90s in a few state health-based surveys, it is interesting, really the role of public health and health research in pushing and really being kind of the location, the site of understanding the possibilities of sexual orientation and gender identity measurement probably in large part due to really the tracking of HIV epidemic and the significance of sexual orientation and gender within that, so public health as a discipline and as a state service has really been an important location for the development of how we think about sexual orientation and gender identity measurement, you can hear me say SOGI just for short, sexual orientation and gender identity just to try to bring some of the verbiage down.
0:12:20.2 DW: So yeah, so it's been an important site for SOGI measurement so on one hand, including these measures is not new, definitely not in community-based research, and then to some extent, in these state health surveys, yet it has not been consistent and it's not widespread enough to provide the kind of population level information. Momentum has definitely been increasing over the last 10 to 15 years, this has included federally funded or national efforts to focus on the feasibility of testing measures of SOGI and demonstrating the feasibility, the comprehension. There have been a number of reports demonstrating the efforts to measure SOGI work over the years, two of those reports were edited and convened through the Williams Institute.
0:13:17.0 DW: And there have been inclusion of some of these measures, again, particularly in our health surveillance systems over time. But we are still missing in major surveys like the census. So early on in some of the really impactful work done by Gary Gates at the Williams Institute, demonstrating kind of characteristics and population size of same sex couples using the census. So that was an opportunity to get at sexual orientation identity, although that's more about couple status, not really how people identify. So there were early efforts, but the census as it stands now, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that allows us to distinguish between cisgender and transgender people. The community population survey, which tends to give us better data on economic status.
0:14:13.9 DW: So there's been both momentum and a need for improvement. And then of course, in the administrative data systems, like in child welfare and in cultural systems. So recently there was the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering and Medicine report on SOGI measurement, which I had the honor of being a part of that panel. This was a panel that the National Institutes of Health commissioned. And here again, this is kind of part of that ongoing momentum early on where our scope, our charge was to demonstrate what do we know about SOGI measurement, what's possible and what are the recommendations? And our bottom line was we've known it's possible for some time. Here's the data that demonstrate that. But of course, there's a number of unanswered questions and need to further some research on this too.
0:15:15.3 CW: I'm curious about when we think... One of the things that we talk about is the idea of policy genealogies in this series and the idea that what we're experiencing today has particular kinds of roots and foundations that still reverberate. And as I listen to you talk about the case of data specifically and its roots in, particularly when we think about SOGI data and public health in that relationship, I wonder if you feel like that has... That linkage and that disciplinary linkage has... Still has reverberations today in terms of the kinds of questions that get asked, the kind of data that gets collected that I can... One can definitely see the utility when we're thinking about something like you just mentioned the HIV epidemic, but I wonder if it has a certain unintended consequences that still reverberate as we think about the challenges of collecting data around LGBTQ populations. Am I right about that? Do you see that?
0:16:26.4 DW: Yeah. I think that's a great question and point and I think spot on. More than one scholar, I'm not at any way the first to... And activists have noted that the framing of LGBT rights and issues within the public health context has of course, provided attention, like needed attention and funding. But in that funding has also limited the scope for how we think about what LGBT wellbeing means. And that it's consistently grounded within a health disparities framework. So some of those reverberations that I think I definitely know would be the heavy emphasis or the kind of pathway by which our major LGBT health centers and academics get funding to focus on LGBT people. If that comes through HIV, there are clear groups that get missed in that discussion.
0:17:31.9 DW: So that has led to, in many ways, an invisibility of cis queer women's issues, to trans men's issues where it's not that HIV is not salient at all, but may not be at the top of the list of... Particularly for cis queer women at the top of the list of health issues. So in the absence of not having that health issue, you then... If you kind of look back, you see this resistance that has happened since the 80s, starting with the National Lesbian Health Care Survey and ongoing to say, "Hey, no one's paying attention to cis queer women issues." And a number of both community and academic efforts to try to resist the pull, kind of that gravitational pull that was created with HIV funding and how that defined what LGBT Health had to focus on.
0:18:29.0 DW: So I definitely see that as one major reverberation. And I think in this constant effort of resisting that pull particularly related to cis queer women's health, there was so much energy put in to saying, "Look, look, there's health disparities here too." When now when we look at what population level data are available, a lot of where we need to be focused on with cis queer women is on the economic side. It's not even in the health arena. And there are... It doesn't mean that there are not sexual minority specific issues in how queer women engage in the healthcare system. So it's not that, but data on food insecurity, poverty, housing, system involvement work, criminalization of queer women, these are also important issues. And I think it's taken time to kind of pull out of that health disparities model to really look at some of those social determinants or those structural factors more directly.
0:19:47.5 CW: And you've done quite a bit of work on child welfare in particular, and I wonder if you can share more about this work, and if you can specifically talk about the role of empirical research in LGBTQ-related child welfare policy, has it been informed in the past, what's going on now, and where do we need to go, and how would you say policy work and work done in this field inform broader LGBTQ policy discourse. Is this central? Is this marginal? You've done quite a bit of work on it. Where do you think it should fit in the conversation, if you will.
0:20:34.7 DW: Yeah, so it's interesting, my engagement in the LGBT child welfare research definitely came years after really committed social workers, clinical researchers had been really calling out that, hey, the queer kids in the system are struggling and we think there's more of them than you would expect. They've been saying this for some time, starting in the late '80s, '90s, you start to see published work on this. So at the time I entered it, and this was really the beginning of... It was actually a great opportunity and how I came to work at the Williams Institute. A project had started here in Los Angeles, and it was really the largest resource project focused on LGBT within the child welfare system at the time, and that was great that they received funding in order to do an intervention, and yet despite having successfully advocated for resources to be devoted to the issue, multiple administrators and child welfare workers and policy advocates noted that data was still needed that actually demonstrate... That assess, well, how many LGBTQ youth are there in the system. That not knowing the answer to that question continued to impact people's ability to talk about what the needs were and whether this was a priority need.
0:22:23.5 DW: And so that really was my role for that project, was to design that study to assess at a population level using methodologies that could be trusted that were talking about what's happening in the population and not just kind of a convenient sample of queer youth, which are powerful for understanding the experiences, but not enough to say confidently that you know what the percentage is. And so we conducted that study in collaboration with a number of, again, very committed advocates and child welfare workers and the courts. We were able to collect that information and report out that, yes, LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system, and quite notably, they were also disproportionally racial minorities as well, and yes, they're experiencing disparities, and since then, we've seen studies like the one we did in LA and Cayuga County, in New York City, nationally, at least in terms of LGBT status that continue to reproduce similar results. And so data like this have been useful particularly for those administrators or legislators that weren't convinced that the queer youth were in the system, that was still... As much as the advocacy had been ongoing, some people were listening, but they also knew that some people were doubting that this was even an issue, and that's where data like that became very useful.
0:24:03.1 DW: And it's interesting that we did it within... Maybe interesting isn't the right word, but an important... It's important to note that we were able to do this study in California and LA both because of the already kind of positive policy atmosphere that... Actually at the time we did the study, 10 years before California had already passed non-discrimination protections for youth who are LGBT, where they enumerated such orientation and gender identity. So that made a project like that very possible, but still also very meaningful that we found disparities at that level in a state with such a strong public policy context. So the data were both very useful, I think, for increasing momentum, for focus on how LGBTQ youth are being served in multiple state systems, including child welfare, but were also an interesting lesson around the possibilities and limitations of the policies that are intended to protect them. Right.
0:25:10.2 CW: And it's also, as I listen to you, I wonder if you can comment on the degree to which that was also a good example of the relationship between what the data are telling you and what people might infer from the data. So for example, you talked about the idea that LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the foster care system. And the first thing that comes to mind in terms of an explanation for me is kind of rejection from family, and then when you say that this is... You definitely see a disproportionality in also the number of LGBTQ youth of color, then if I'm following that same logic one could ask the question, well, is it because the families of color are more un accepting or more homophobic or transphobic, et cetera.
0:26:07.0 CW: And I wonder if you can comment on how you use the data to complicate those kinds of ideas and assumptions and what the data actually support and suggest about why you're seeing the disproportionality, both in terms of all LGBTQ youth and their disproportionate representation in the foster care system, but particularly what you're seeing for youths of color. I wonder if you can comment on that, and I think it's an interesting way for us to think about how we infer from the data and how we need to be mindful and careful about how we do that.
0:26:50.5 DW: Absolutely. That has definitely been a challenge and also an inspiration for future work that for me has come out of this, that noting that when we first started reporting these data, people who were, again, dedicated advocates in the LGBT sphere, service providers, but with a particularly singular queer rights lens automatically attempted to explain this overall representation purely is about LGBT status. And the way that race and gender was connected to it, particularly race... If you have that singular lens, then it led to interpretations like the one that you noted. I heard people say that, "Well, this must be about rejection from family." And it happens more in queer people and in people of color homes, particularly black and indigenous youths homes, and that's who... When we talk about people of color over-represented in child welfare in the US, primarily we're talking about black and indigenous youth. However, at least preliminary data don't really support that, and so it required that we try to complicate that discussion, but also highlight, "This is where more research is needed." But when we say preliminary data don't support that assumption, we have to remember that just conflict and rejection from parents alone does not explain how children end up under surveillance of Child Protective Services. So even that pathway.
0:28:33.5 DW: That's a pathway that's been used to... And perhaps... And I think there's more evidence might support what you've seen happening around queer youth homelessness. I mean you got the queer youth in foster care simply being rejected or not approved of by your family, is not how you end up in foster care. So that's kind of an important point, a factor to keep in mind in trying to explain that. Also early work... What we know about how most children end up in foster care and the age at which they end up, it's before identifying... Before their adolescent years. The average age that children are removed from their homes of origin are toddler years up to five years old, so does that mean that sexual orientation and gender identity is never a issue in parental to adolescent conflict that leads to allegations of abuses for... Again, for adolescent youth? Of course, it doesn't. I think the New York study showed that sometimes that is the a issue. However, the majority of these youth came in as children, which does lead us to... It should lead us, it should have us broaden how we think about LGBT rights in foster care, to be looking to the work of Dorothy Roberts and folks who've talked about the racialization or criminalization of poor households, of black women and indigenous communities and how that has created disproportionate numbers of these children being removed from their homes and ending up in the child welfare system.
0:30:25.0 DW: And that we do need to be thinking about where does sexual orientation and gender identity play a role? Clearly, it plays some role, but perhaps it's more on the child welfare end, like once in care... More evidence would probably point to ones in care, then there's a number of barriers related to placement being bounced around, having trouble with foster care homes being accepting, issues with social workers with the youth, which the youth did report. So I think that's an opportunity for future research is to better understand where in the timeline that youth end up in care, should we be talking about the impact of structural racism, and where... Or should we be talking about the role of anti-LGBT bias. And sometimes they may truly intersect, but I think we have to be open when we think about intersectionality and how that applies to people's day-to-day lives within these systems, that the way it impacts may not always be intersectional in the moment, even if the person themselves are experience things intersectionally. And that there's clearly a role that sexual racism and sexism have played in the initial removal of children's home... Children from their homes.
0:31:49.5 CW: I think that it's fair to say that we have seen, in the last several decades, a growing number of policy topics related to LGBTQ communities. We know that the needs, challenges, policy requirements have always been there, but in terms of the visibility, I think it... And correct me if I'm wrong, it's fair to say that we've seen kind of heightened visibility from going back decades to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to marriage equality, to transgender rights as it relates to healthcare. And I wonder if you can comment on the state of affairs and what you see as it relates to the landscape around LGBTQ rights. What do you think the conversation is getting right? What do you think the conversation is missing or even getting wrong?
0:32:54.4 DW: That's a big question. Let's see. It's not that the focus on sexual orientation and gender identity specific anti-discrimination protections is getting it wrong. So when we think about what kind of bills and protections are at play now or on the horizon that are specific to SOGI, like the Equality Act or efforts to protect the rights of trans-youth and trans people to receive gender affirming care, it's not that that's getting it wrong. It's that the data on disparities and lived experiences of LGBTQ people clearly should be driving how we frame what it means to be an LGBT rights issue. It should be driving us to broaden that. So it's not that that's wrong, it's just that if we look at the data demonstrating that LGBT people of color as a whole, trans folks in particular, cis queer women of color, bisexual women in particular; if we look at their experiences related to poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, that would indicate that... And that we see those disparities even in policy protective environments, that those policies are important foundations, but aren't gonna do it alone. And that that really should be leading us to think about what are the policies that will improve economic well-being of neighborhoods overall.
0:35:01.2 DW: So when I think about the data that we publish on LGBT poverty, both the quantitative data, like the survey data and showing poverty rates and showing that LGBT people have higher poverty rates, particularly cis bi-women and trans-folks, that I did with my colleagues here, but also our qualitative work, that showed that such a high percentage of the low-income LGBT people that we spoke to, that we interviewed in two counties in California, both rural and urban, how many had experienced poverty as children. And the take away from that is that if a lot of what we understand about LGBT adult poverty requires that we understand economic instability and poverty within families of origin that are not necessarily LGBT-headed households, then that does suggest that in order to improve the adult LGBT poverty outcomes, we have to be willing to shift or at least broaden an understanding of LGBT rights work, to include the type of policies we think of as improving black and indigenous communities, for example, Latino communities, protecting the rights of undocumented workers, including addressing the wage gap, child tax... Access to daycare and preschool.
0:36:39.7 DW: So the things, the different policies that better scholars and activists than me in each of these fields, but the areas that folks talk about related to reparations, how we think about building up economic stability of black communities, protecting tribal sovereignty. These become part of LGBT rights framework if we look at the data on where the disparities are and what the lived experience looks like. So I think of it less as kind of what's right or wrong right now, and more how to broaden it. I'm not the first to say this, there have always been resistance work along the way challenging a singular LGBT rights focus. We could go all the way back to the Combahee River Collective, we could think of [0:37:36.9] ____ work in activism along the way, Cathy Cohen's work. So this isn't new, but hopefully a role that my work and others here and colleagues at other institutions, hopefully, what we have to offer is the data that is further demonstrating, when we think of how LGBT rights work is justified, it's actually with the data about people of color. It's kind of similar again to HIV.
0:38:15.9 DW: When we think about how HIV funding even continues, that is on the data of cis gay, bisexual, same gender loving Black men, and black trans-women. And so, similarly, when we think about the way... When you look at the written text justifying why public accommodation protections are needed, why anti-discrimination policy is needed, a lot of the data showing those economic disparities, it is the data on LGBT people of color, cis bi-women of color, trans-folks that are driving those data. So we need to continue kinda broadening, well, what are the policy and service solutions that represent kind of the root causes of those disparities, and it's more likely that not a singular LGBT focus is not gonna do that.
0:39:28.8 CW: And it gets even more complex when we layer on the idea of what's driving the data, but then what's driving the agenda, right? And so often what drives the agenda where the resources are? And who has the resources? And often those are the folks that have the biggest megaphones and the biggest seats at the table. And so what I hear you also gesturing towards is this idea of how do we think about coalition building and community voice within LGBTQ issues? And we certainly see it within the HIV world that I've written about where using the economic and political and male and white racialized capital or white male activists to really move the agenda forward and get access to resources and to get a seat at the table. Hard fought seats and seats that were often denied on the basis of sexuality, but nevertheless an ability to poke and prod and demand in ways that have proven really fruitful. So one of the things that I think about, that I think is so interesting about this conversation is the possibility and the political possibilities for truly diverse coalitions around HIV or around LGBTQ issues that really respond to the data, respond to the needs, and that also are very thoughtful and intentional about voice and power within that. So I wonder if you can just kind of comment on that complicated array of dynamics when we think about the movement from data to voice to policy?
0:41:39.9 DW: Yeah. What that brings up for me is I'm aware that I often... Because I work in a LGBT space, and as someone very much invested in racial justice and gender justice, I tend to think about what the LGBTQ policy rights space needs to be doing better. It needs to be broadening. But you're right in terms of thinking of that coalition work. Some of this is also saying that, "Hey, those of you who've been working on Black workers rights, need to be thinking about how do sexuality and gender also come into play in that too." And this really is a conversation on multiple sides on how to use data to provide not just LGBTQ policy work a way to enter a conversation about the significance of structural racism and sexism, but also for those who have been doing racial justice work to continue thinking about the intersectionality around trans issues and other queer issues.
0:43:01.0 CW: Really interesting. So I want to lift up some of the questions that we've received from our students who are currently watching. And here's one of the questions. From what I understand, much of the research and of course, my motion detector...
0:43:18.7 DW: Oh, yeah. It was like you are too still for too long to [0:43:21.7] ____.
0:43:24.8 CW: Well, from what I understand in our environmental energy savings, from what I understand, much of the research on LGBTQ populations often centers the experiences of folks living in metropolitan areas. Would you say this is also true for LGBTQ policy work? So they're talking about the research tends to focus on is just the policy work also tend to focus on cities, and if so, how might we think of a move to include LGBTQ populations living in sub-urban and rural communities?
0:44:04.0 DW: Yeah, great question. Yes, [chuckle] I would agree for sure that the urban bias that you see in research and empirical work, also just the locations of... To the extent that research and scholarship on the issue is based out of major urban universities that you do see that reflected to some extent in policy work, or probably a large extent when you even think of where the hubs are, where the big public policy or advocacy centers, San Francisco, DC, New York, LA. So I agree with you, I think that's there... In terms of what we need to do... I can speak on the research, and that is something that I've tried to work into our work. Say for example, in LGBT poverty, both the large-scale national survey study that we published. We distinguish between urban and rural poverty and show that LGBTQ folks like cisheterosexual folks in rural spaces were experiencing more poverty than those in urban settings, and the need to highlight data like that. Similarly within our qualitative work, that was... Again, the impetus behind not just doing an LA County study, but moving north to Kern County and working with a lot of great folks there who've been doing LGBT rural legal and services work for some time.
0:45:49.8 DW: And our research there show that there were some important distinctions to keep in mind. Like for example, around economic security or food insecurity in particular. It was the folks... The participants from the rural county that indicated that pretty much the only charitable food services, like your food banks and other types of services designed to address food insecurity, the ones that they all talked about were all religiously affiliated. So it's not that participants in the urban space didn't experience discrimination, they did. It's not that they didn't experience dealing with religiously affiliated food banks and charitable food services, but the significant difference here is that in the rural space, the only ones they mentioned and seemed to know about were religiously affiliated. Which doesn't have to be bad in and of itself, but there was a high expectation and experience with anti-LGBT bias in those spaces.
0:46:56.1 DW: And so that then limits the kind of services they can get to address hunger. And in a way that goes even beyond the individual talking about it. If they think, "I heard that so and so were made fun of or rejected because they were trans. So I'm not gonna go." They're gonna tell three other people, they're not gonna go. And hunger is not getting addressed. So that was something that was unique to rural. So it's... I don't know if that exactly answers your question, but it definitely... I affirm that it is a bias and a issue, and there are folks in the South, in rural spaces, that know that more attention is needed on this and are trying to do more work on that.
0:47:45.1 CW: When you look at the reports of the Williams Institute, there's a finding in particular that one of our students pointed to which is, looking at the current data in one of your reports I'm concerned about the large percentages of uninsured LGBTQ people in each racial category. And there was a desire to have you kinda comment on the high un-insurance rates. High rates of not being insured among LGBT populations.
0:48:20.0 DW: Yeah, yeah, I mean...
0:48:21.4 CW: Is that associated with poverty and is that...
0:48:23.5 DW: Yeah. I mean, yeah. I think... Yeah, and connected to employment. And this is maybe also a highlight for why we need certain surveys to actually have some LGBT data to better understand this. But yes, we've seen pretty consistently that LGBT folks can have lower rates of health insurance coverage, particularly through employment and private employers. It is likely very much tied to poverty and employment status. The reason I noted that this would be a place where it'd be great to get more data on SOGI from, say, CPS, from the more economically focused federal surveys, is that many of us have wondered is that also about how LGBT people work and how many are self-employed versus... And where self-employment can provide a little bit of a protection against anti-LGBT bias. And then that could also reduce rates of coverage and being able to handle coverage. But that's just a hypothesis. We need more data. We need that SOGI data that uses grouped national population-based occupation data to understand whether or not that's a good explanatory factor for some of those health insurance coverage rates.
0:49:49.4 CW: Interesting. Okay. One student wants to know, "How can states work to improve life expectancy outcomes for trans-folks? How can local cities create policies that help ensure homeless trans-folks are safely housed?"
0:50:14.4 DW: Well, I'll try to tackle... It's a big question. I don't know, like a typical researcher, I probably have more questions than the solutions. But I think what we know about trans health disparities indicates a constellation of factors related to anti-trans bias directly. Meaning they're using a minority stress framework in understanding how day-to-day discrimination and prejudice and that impact on mental health and the cascading impact on health outcomes from that.
0:50:58.0 DW: But there's also just direct material impacts of anti-trans bias. Meaning, limitations on access to housing because of prejudice. Barriers to employment. We saw this in our qualitative study of low-income LGBT people, where a number of trans participants talked about feeling they were evaluated positively with a resume. They came in for the interview, and they could just see the employer's face change. And they talked about, "I knew right then I wasn't getting this job." So anti-trans bias is not purely through a psychological mechanism, there's real material impacts of that kind of prejudice that limits people's economic possibilities in addition to violence and victimization.
0:52:00.7 DW: So I think many of our health... When we talk about... That's part of the challenge when we talk a lot about social determinants of health and health outcomes. We know that these matter. It's good to continue research demonstrating the mechanisms by which they matter. But at some point we have to then direct to policy and services at those factors directly, as opposed to knowing that those exist in the background and then just working on health behavior change.
0:52:36.2 CW: Right. Right. At that individualized focus in terms of getting people to do certain things for their individual health.
0:52:44.0 DW: Yeah.
0:52:47.0 CW: There's a student who wants to ask a question about data, and what some of the challenges have been in your work at Williams, in terms of gathering data on LGBTQ populations. You talked about some of the bigger structural issues related to the funding support and trying to help people see the value in it, but I wonder if you can comment on some of the more micro-level issues and challenges around collecting the data. And particularly the student wants to know about comfort that people may or may not have sharing around issues of sexuality. So I wonder if you can comment on that.
0:53:30.8 DW: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's a great question. The issue of disclosure and concerns around privacy and risk to risks of disclosure. Like in an anti-LGBT atmosphere, that's an issue that's been ever present for decades. The good thing here is that at least your confidential, large-scale, population-based surveys... And I say confidential 'cause they're often not truly anonymous, if they're using kind of household addresses. But... Or your online anonymous surveys. Well, of course, there's always the likelihood that people will not respond to questions or not feel comfortable. We don't see high non-response rates for sexual orientation and gender identity in those contexts. They're better rates of response than one of our most important variables income which tends to have very poor non-response rates. The way sometimes race is answered particularly among Latinos, has a high non-response rate. So a lot of data have... And I think that's really important for us to put out there. Often when we talk about SOGI data, there's kind of a heightened concern around disclosure and... Again, not just from the actual fear of discrimination or the impact of being discriminated against, but just the idea that, "Oh, no one's gonna respond."
0:55:04.8 DW: But we've been seeing that people have been responding to this for some time, and the response rates look generally as good as some of the other variables that might have challenges. And gender identity in particular has a very strong response rate. So, that's the good news in that survey context. And we even saw that within the foster care context, when we did the survey. 'Cause the way we did it, it wasn't through administrative data collection, it was like an independent investigator survey, where the youth were called in wherever they were housed, and asked a series of questions which included sexual orientation, gender identity. And even in our preliminary work to determine like, "Is this gonna be feasible?" 'Cause we got a lot of feedback that these kids are not gonna answer these questions. And what we found in our preliminary work before doing the survey was that, in general, the youth said, "Look, I'm not nervous or confused or concerned really about answering the questions, particularly in this environment with a survey, but there are things I'm worried about." One girl said to me, "I don't care if you ask me if I'm bi, just don't ask me how I ended up in foster care." So really indicating... And I think this is really important when we do think about where there are challenges to work out which is how we ask SOGI questions in administrative settings, where it's not confidential per se.
0:56:40.0 DW: There are a number of sets of eyes that will look at that data, say in the trajectory of a child who is a dependent of the state from the courts, to the child welfare worker, to potential caregivers. There are a number of things to work out, but what we do need to keep in mind is that same system is expected to protect and honor much more private data information than how a youth identifies their sexual orientation and gender identity. And we should have high expectations for how they manage that data, and SOGI should be no different. And, honestly, should probably be easier than a lot of the information that they have to manage and protect about their children.
0:57:33.4 CW: Very helpful. Very useful answer. A very useful answer. For our last set of questions, I want to leverage your brilliance and your professional path advice for our students, many of whom would love to walk a similar path as you have professionally, and are very interested in data and are interested in policy issues, and really see... And are passionate about the utility of data and data expertise to be able to have policy conversations. So I would love to ask you a couple of questions related to just kind of soliciting some advice, if you will. So one student says, "Most of the social justice work you do is very intersectional, attacking community struggles from multiple angles, which is the only way to truly solve group struggles, I believe. That being said, how do you navigate the intersection of communities you advocate for whilst also ensuring that each identity is represented and heard? Further, how do you do this in a way where you're supporting communities as opposed to inserting yourself in communities. And more specifically, how do you appropriately navigate conflicts and spaces where your identity is not represented?" So a number of questions from a student about just kind of asking you to unpack how you enter these spaces, and how you advise others to enter these spaces, to be as useful and constructive as possible, given all of the complexity.
0:59:19.8 DW: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'm gonna 100% say I'm not saying I've figured all that out. I'm not sure I'm ensuring anything. But I'm definitely happy to kind of comment on what I feel I do navigate, what at least I try to do. I think first and foremost, whether my research is coming from a direct community-engaged space, which is not always the case, right? So I've definitely been involved in work that I'm working directly with community groups, service providers, hearing their advice and thoughts on a research agenda and research materials. But then other cases where... I've initiated a project or worked with colleagues based on where we know there are gaps in knowledge and we hope that it's impactful for communities.
1:00:16.8 DW: So there's a number of ways I come to the table or come to different research projects. And in doing that work, for one, as a community psychologist is we spend a lot of time thinking about how do we situate ourselves and how do we locate ourselves. And I'm visibly a person of color, visibly Black. I guess if you hear me talk long enough about my life, you'll know I'm lesbian-identified, assumed to be a woman identified, and... You know so obviously, when I enter the table, there's a lot of assumptions about who I am and what that means for the work. And there's positives to that and some disadvantages. So in the work that I do that is at the intersection of multiple marginalized statuses, that can be helpful. It can be a sense of expectation that I come with respect for communities and what they need for themselves and care about justice work.
1:01:28.9 DW: At the same time, I think it's important for those of us who identify even somewhat with the communities we work with not to be arrogant and assume that we know exactly what's needed for these communities. And so walking with that level of humility in how we ask questions and that we know that it's important to get feedback from multiple voices, even if we think that the work we're doing represents who we are. When I conducted research on Black lesbian sexual culture and sexual health, that was an important part of that work was to constantly reflecting on what were my assumptions going into the work. How is what I'm hearing different than what I thought I would hear, and to make sure that I'm representing that and honoring that. So approaching it in terms of understanding, you want other people's voice not just your own, but respecting and affirming what you have to offer from your own social location, but moving with some humility around that.
1:02:44.8 CW: And for those who come into these spaces who don't occupy visibly marginalized statuses, I think so much of that advice applies. And I wonder what you would would add. Particularly, if you've watched your colleagues move through these spaces and how you have been able to see things in ways that have been really supportive and helpful. I wonder... And sometimes not... And I wonder if you can comment on that piece as well, for those who their visible presentation suggests a level of privilege whether that's really true or not.
1:03:33.2 DW: Yeah, I mean...
1:03:35.9 CW: A high level of privilege, I should say.
1:03:37.3 DW: Right, right. Yeah, and I recognize even in work, I do on economic stability. I don't walk into the room. And you might not know about my upbringing. So I walk in the room as a middle class, upper middle class, highly educated person in that space. Talking to folks who are dealing with hunger and housing instability. And so even... I would not go so far to talk about me who is experiencing structural privilege, but understanding that I have advantages that the folks that I'm working with don't have.
1:04:18.1 DW: And so I do think the analysis of who I am and that social location and having some humility around what I can speak to in that moment, what I'm experiencing in that moment, and how that differs from the people that will be impacted by the work is important. And I think that extends to... When I think of scholars and advocates that are saying, "Why insist?" But I consider very productive and effective in their work in communities that are quite different than themselves, that's what I see them doing. And probably understanding that even more, they need to bring people to the table that are not... That come from other perspectives. And I think too... I mean, in the end, none of our projects are gonna represent all the parts of the selves of all the people that our work is gonna impact. And we have to be okay with that. And so it's also what do you do once you put the work out there. How do you get that into the hands and kind of create opportunities to hear how people respond to that work and be open to how that might shift how you think about factors that you didn't think about before and... So I think that's important too. I don't think this should be about tokenizing or kind of false...
1:05:47.6 DW: You know creating kind of representative round tables and thinking you've accounted for everyone who needs to be at the table, that might not happen at one point in the project, but what do you once you have put the data out there and get response back about those data? So, like for example, I found it very educational and important for the next phases of my own work. After I published our report on American Indian and Alaskan Native socio-economic status and health outcome report, we published this last fall. Since publishing that, I've had a series of conversations and we got a collective together to do a webinar where we have really... I thought very important critical discussions that were talking about, well, yes, that's nice that you found those outcomes, but here's some problems with how you defined multi-racial American identities, and what does this mean for how we think about the long-term impact of historical trauma? If it's just defined in terms of racial heritage and kind of blood quantum. So to do every project, you might may not have everyone at the table, but what do you do next with that? I'd ask, and then that's... It is part of that longer process where you should be continuing to learn.
1:07:34.8 CW: I think that is so important. And particularly, I wanna underline that very last thing that you said there, which is, and continue to learn, and continue to learn, because as far... Even people who are very seasoned in this work, we still have a lot to learn and we're still gathering information and trying to make sense of things, so I think that answer is fantastic. Why... One of the students wants to know, was there a reason you were originally drawn to your work in LGBTQ policy? And what do you think is the best way to write policy on behalf of the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ folks of color? And we might say, write policy prescriptions, I'll say that.
1:08:29.8 DW: Okay. Well...
1:08:30.6 CW: What inspired you?
1:08:32.1 DW: Yeah. What inspired me? So, I don't know, I kinda have a interesting... It feels both linear and very non-linear at the same time. So I mean... You know, very young, I was involved in sexual health education, that led me to HIV prevention, within HIV prevention, worked with great folks, scholars and activists who were centering the needs of black and Latinx, cis, gay, bisexual, SGL men and trans women in doing that work, and at the same time I was doing kind of community work in queer girl and women spaces.
1:09:16.7 DW: And in all of that work, really, when I think about what leads me to do the topics we talked most about today, is that it didn't matter whether it was that community work I was doing or research in health and sexual health and HIV, issues of system involvement, criminalization, and poverty were ever present. And my interest in shifting to a public policy research center like this was at least in part informed by the desire to move to focus on those issues more directly. But for me, there really was a point where if we watch the HIV epidemic pandemic, follow poverty, marginalization, the impacts of imperialism and anti-LGBT issues, racism, then I wanted to shift to those topics as opposed to knowing that that's always in the background and hoping that we make change through behavior known. And the data were telling us that the behavioral change models for black cis, gay and bi-men, those aren't gonna do it. It's not even probably what's explaining the higher rates. So that's a lot of what inspired me to move to this work. Yeah.
1:10:55.4 CW: Interesting. One of the frameworks that I often offer to students is this idea of, "Do you want your area of intervention to be upstream or midstream or downstream?" And it sounds like a lot of the work that you were doing felt very downstream, and really you were interested in looking upstream and thinking about the root causes of the set of dynamics and not focusing your attention on how people were navigating the water, but where the water was coming from in the first place.
1:11:33.2 DW: Absolutely.
1:11:36.0 CW: So my last question for you, for students who are trying to figure it out, trying to figure out, is my area of highest passion and purpose around focusing on that downstream? 'Cause some people really do... Want to do that kind of work versus midstream versus upstream. What advice can you give in terms of where did do you jump in and where did you figure out what you figured out in terms of where you wanted to place your emphasis? Particularly for our students who are just feeling like they want to do something, but it's kind of overwhelmed... Overwhelming in terms of the options and choices with all of the different issues that could you focus on.
1:12:20.7 DW: I remember that overwhelm. I might still experience that overwhelming stuff. Sometimes I'd say, "Forget it, I'm just going to go be a sex therapist." Yeah. So what I talk to students about is, well, first, I may talk about what inspired me to move more upstream, but I'm under no pretense around the fact that it requires all the parts of the stream for us to meet the change. I just found, hopefully, where my fit is a little more. So to know that there's value in all the ways that we come at social justice work. And with that in mind, I remember spending a lot of time being worried about there being one discipline, one kind of degree, one kind of job that was going to get me to do the work that I ultimately wanted to do, and then I ended up at a research center with a bunch of us that took a lot of different paths and a lot of different disciplines, and are essentially doing work that each of us could do. So with that in mind, I tend to talk to students about spend some time finding someone who is doing something that excites you, then ask them how they got there. You are likely to find out that for every three to five people that you find that you like the work that they are doing, that they got there in different ways, so it opens up multiple paths to getting to that work.
1:13:57.7 DW: There are people in policy research that came through public health, there are some who were social workers for 20 years and shifted and said, "Okay, this direct clinical work is not what I want to do. I want to engage in research that helps to inform the clinical work." So it's research intended to inform the more individualized part of the interventions or I wanna now do research in organizational work that pushes the upstream. So find some people who are doing cool stuff and talk to them about how they got there. And I see that as one way to relieve some of the angst around the idea that there's just one path to it.
1:14:44.1 CW: Yeah. Dr. Bianca Wilson, this has been phenomenal. Thank you so much for your brilliance and your candor and your creativity, and you are truly an inspiration. It's been so helpful also just to hear from you on these issues, but also equally useful to hear and helpful to hear about your path to the work that you're doing. So thank you so much for taking the time. I truly appreciate it.
1:15:18.6 DW: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great. [laughter]
1:15:22.3 CW: Wonderful.