How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Health and Well-being of the LGBTQ+ Community?: A Q&A With Laurie Drabble

Laurie Drabble.

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty.

It’s known that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning+ (LGBTQ+) community face health disparities driven by social stigma and discrimination. But what happens when you introduce a global pandemic?

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty with the San José State University College of Health and Human Sciences, explored the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community by serving as co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality, which was published earlier this year.

The issue also featured her recent research exploring alcohol and marijuana use among LGBTQ+ women during the pandemic.

The SJSU Editorial and News team sat down with Drabble to learn more:

What is the biggest takeaway from this special issue?

Laurie Drabble (LD): Social stigma and discrimination are important drivers of disparities in risk for depression, anxiety and suicidality among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-binary groups. LGBTQ+ people also reported more job loss and financial difficulty compared to heterosexual and cisgender people. These risks were amplified during the with COVID-19 pandemic and need to be addressed.

What surprised you about the research findings?

LD: Research in the special issue found that LGBTQ+ individuals were more likely than heterosexual people to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This may not be entirely surprising, given collective experience with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

That past experience heightened community buy-in about the importance of public health strategies to curb disease transmission—and contributed to viewing adherence to public health guidelines as more of a collective responsibility than an individual choice.

However, adhering to guidelines was also associated with psychological distress, which underscores the importance of both formal and social support in public health crises.

This issue pulls together data and research that spans the globe. Did the U.S. stand out?

LD: I was struck by the commonalities between countries. In particular, studies described the negative impact of losing access to LGBTQ+ positive spaces, reduced access to social support, and concerns about invisibility and potential discrimination.

It was also notable that LGBTQ+ people across countries use technology to connect with community, friends and family more than heterosexual and cisgender groups. This is likely a consequence of being part of a community that is defined by common identity rather than location. So, many LGBTQ+ people already used apps, social media and technology tools to find community before the pandemic.

Health disparities already existed in the LGBTQ+ community. Are we making any progress in closing these gaps?

LD: We were making progress in some ways. For example, research has consistently found that reducing structural stigma—such as the legalization of same-sex marriage—has helped reduce disparities in mental health outcomes.

However, research from our special issue and other studies suggest that LGBTQ+ people—particularly LGBTQ people of color—are disproportionately experiencing health and economic harms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to make sure that policies and services intended to address the impact of the pandemic include the needs of LGBTQ+ populations.

Let’s talk about your research focusing on LGBTQ+ women and marijuana and alcohol use during the pandemic. What surprised you about what you learned?

LD: One of the more interesting findings was the degree to which routines or norms associated with alcohol and marijuana use were disrupted or changed.

For example, some study participants described drinking more because they used alcohol to mark the end of the day, and many described using more alcohol and marijuana to simply relieve stress or boredom. Others used less, because they were not spending time in social settings where they would typically drink alcohol or use marijuana with friends.

Sexual minority women had greater risks for hazardous drinking and drug use compared to heterosexual women before the pandemic, so it will be important to continue to study [post pandemic] whether or not these risks have been amplified over time.

Now that we have this information, what do we need to do about it?

LD: First, we need to continue to reduce stigma and address the economic impacts of the pandemic that disproportionately impact people of color and sexual and gender minorities.

For example, a growing number of states have passed harmful laws allowing health and social service providers to be exempt on religious grounds from laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex or gender identity. These trends are deeply concerning, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, given our research suggesting that LGBTQ+ people are frequent users of Internet-based communications and apps, enhancing access to online and remote health and mental health services would be timely.

Third, the research in this issue highlighted the importance of access to community and social support. So it is critical to provide financial support to ensure the survival of LGBTQ+ health and social service organizations, as well as LGBTQ+-centered physical spaces.

How can this information help us better care for the LGBTQ+ members of our SJSU community?

LD: For many LGBTQ+ young adults, university communities are important for finding safe and affirming support, particularly for students who may need to live with unsupportive families for financial reasons. Providing opportunities for social support and counseling—such as those provided by the SJSU PRIDE Center and Student Services—are crucial.

Read more about Drabble’s research and these topics.

SJSU Appoints New Dean of College of Health and Human Sciences

Audrey Mengwasser Shillington has been appointed dean of SJSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences (CHHS), effective July 1.

Shillington joins SJSU from Colorado State University, where she has held the positions of Director of the School of Social Work, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Interim Associate Dean for Research in the College of Health and Human Sciences. She will be replacing Pamela Richardson, who served as interim dean of CHHS for the past year.

“Dr. Shillington brings an energy, creativity and background that will allow her to facilitate the larger strategic conversation in CHHS and on the campus in academic affairs,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Vincent Del Casino, Jr. “More importantly, Dr. Shillington has a clear commitment to the mission of the California State University system and SJSU.”

New dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Audrey Mengwasser Shillington

Audrey Mengwasser Shillington has been appointed dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, effective July 1.

Prior to her leadership roles at Colorado State University, Shillington was a professor at San Diego State University’s School of Social Work, where she helped create and co-led the Center for Alcohol and Drug Studies and Services. She also served as Senior Investigator at SDSU’s School of Public Health Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health. Upon arriving at Colorado State University, Shillington helped develop an interdisciplinary Cannabis Research Group.

“I am excited to join the SJSU team — my work has always been interdisciplinary and collaborative throughout my training, research and leadership — and I look forward to working with leadership, faculty, staff, students, alumni, industry, and community partners to build the College of Health and Human Sciences,” Shillington said. “In light of recent COVID-19 impacts, there has been no other time in recent history when the call and need to better understand and address health disparities has been stronger. SJSU’s CHHS is poised to be at the forefront of this important work.”

Shillington is currently a Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and also Fellow of the American Academy of Health Behavior — both preeminent national organizations for disciplinary researchers and practitioners.

Shillington earned her MSW and PhD in social work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and her undergraduate degrees at Drury University in Springfield, MO. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in Benin, West Africa, where she was involved in projects on energy conservation and food insecurity for rural communities. She was a NIH National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow for three years and received a master’s in psychiatric epidemiology from the Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. Shillington also spent two years as a National Institute of Drug Abuse trainee for the Hispanic Drug Abuse and HIV/AIDS Research Training through the Yale University School of Medicine.

Shillington’s research has focused on the prevention and intervention of substance use behaviors among youth and young adults. She has over 70 publications and been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator for $16 million in NIH and state grants and contracts. Her research focused on addressing disparities that exist in the nosology and measurement of mental and behavioral health. Shillington has also led work aimed at reducing problematic alcohol use and issues related to the legalization of recreational marijuana use among young adults.

Governor Signs Bill Allowing CSUs to Offer Doctor of OT Degree

An Occupational Therapy master's student works with clients during an on-campus clinic to help them improve dexterity. A new bill has cleared the path for SJSU and other CSUs to develop doctoral programs in OT.

An Occupational Therapy master’s student works with clients during an on-campus clinic to help them improve dexterity by using a cotton candy machine. A new bill has cleared the path for SJSU and other CSUs to develop doctoral programs in OT.

Governor Gavin Newsom approved Assembly Bill 829 Aug. 30, clearing the way for San Jose State University to offer a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree. The next step will be for the Chancellor’s Office to approve an executive order that will set the scope and guidelines for the new degree

In anticipation of the approval of this bill and pending approval by the Chancellor’s Office, faculty in the College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) Department of Occupational Therapy have already begun work on developing curriculum for a doctoral degree.

“They started about a year ago in anticipation of this going through,” said HHS Interim Dean Pamela Richardson. “We are looking at what the balance will be between the master’s and doctoral programs.”

The college anticipates admitting the first cohort in 2022-23.

“The OTD gives graduates additional training in research and evidence, more coursework in program evaluation and program development, and will have a capstone project and experience,” Richardson said. “They will have more potential for leadership opportunities.”

A doctoral program also will build a pipeline for future educators.

“Most academic programs hire OTDs as faculty so it creates opportunities for teaching as well,” Richardson said.

The College of Health and Human Sciences already offers one doctoral program with another in development. This year marks the first year SJSU is offering a Doctor of Nursing Practice on its own following six years of offering a joint program with Fresno State University. The College is also working on the final stages of a  doctoral degree in its newly created Department of Audiology. Faculty are in the final stages of developing the curriculum, gaining conditional accreditation and recruiting audiology students for the first cohort to begin in fall 2020.

“These are certainly elevated health degrees and there will be lots of opportunity for interprofessional education,” Richardson said. “It will increase the visibility of our College as producing healthcare leaders across a variety of disciplines.”

She noted that accrediting boards in most healthcare disciplines require programs to provide interprofessional education so that graduates are prepared to work effectively on healthcare teams.

“This gives us an opportunity to build robust doctoral programs and ramp up the amount of collaborative research opportunities for faculty and students,” she said. “It takes research active faculty to appropriately train and mentor doctoral students.”