Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program and the University’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging hosted a panel of researchers in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility on Thursday.
The panel — “Moving Past the Binary: The Importance of Transgender and Nonbinary Inclusion in Gender Equity Research” — featured Brandeis University professor V. Varun Chaudry; A.J. Lowik, Gender Equity Advisor at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity in Vancouver; Harvard School of Public Health assistant professor Sabra L. Katz-Wise; and Harvard graduate student Miriam “Mia” Miyagi. Sari M. van Anders, professor of gender studies at Queens University, moderated the panel.
The panelists discussed gender equity funding and other resources for transgender individuals of color.
“Resources and needs really extend into the everyday,” Chaudhry said. “I always want to push people to think really capaciously about what those needs and resources might look like, and really trusting the voices of trans communities of color.”
The panel also touched upon the importance of inclusive language and terminology in conversations and research.
“A lot of scientists, especially in biology, have sort of washed our hands of having to deal with the nuance here by appealing to a split between gender and sex,” Miyagi said. “As scientists, we have a responsibility to communicate and conceptualize sex in the complex non-binary way that it truly is.”
Chaudhry said many current research methodologies fail to include trans individuals and groups.
“We’re often asking people to fit into institutional standards that require educational privilege, they require class privilege, they require time,” he said. “Some of these funders are trying to work differently against that.”
Lowik said it is critical for scientists to engage in inclusive research, citing their work in healthcare.
“What we need to do is think through meaningful inclusion from beginning to end, from the conceptualization of projects through data collection, through dissemination of our findings,” Lowik said.
“Our science is going to be better if we are inclusive of all people, if we acknowledge the way that oppressive systems impact who we study, what we study, who gets included,” they added. “Ultimately, that is to the advantage not only of the populations that we serve, but to science as this kind of idealized system.”
Drawing from her research with transgender youth, Katz-Wise advocated for trans-inclusive legislation and systems.
“If we’re thinking about the institutional level, and discrimination and healthcare settings, we really need to focus on healthcare provider training and education on how to provide affirming care to this population,” she said. “On a larger, structural level, we really need to engage in advocacy to push back on all this legislation that’s preventing access to care in the first place for this population.”
Miyagi discussed the ongoing “tension” between minimizing risks for trans study participants and producing useful research involving those populations.
“The important distinction, in my opinion, is differentiating between including individuals in a sample for a study that studies some disjoint phenomenon…versus a study that is looking at, say, is hormone therapy causal for some medicalized phenomenon?” she said. “I think it’s appropriate that we have different standards for these sorts of things.”
Lowik said it is important to ensure the safety of trans individuals in any study, as visibility can be incredibly costly, both personally and professionally.
All panelists and van Anders agreed on the importance of recognizing the value of trans individuals in research and society.
“We’re here, we’re visible today, but we’re visible every day,” Lowik said.
“Gaps in our theories are actual people. It’s not theoretical anymore,” van Anders added.
—Staff Writer Darley A. C. Boit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.