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Inclusive Care

Center to Focus on Improving Mental Health Among LGBTQ+ Communities

By Kelly Blake

Rainbow hands in the shape of a butterfly

Illustration by Margaret Hall

With its expanded mission of improving mental health and health care for LGBTQ+ people, UMD-PRC will serve as a hub to connect providers, researchers and LGBTQ+ individuals and allies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded $3.75 million to the University of Maryland Prevention Research Center (UMD-PRC) to improve mental health and health care for LGBTQ+ people.

The five-year cooperative agreement, announced by the School of Public Health today on National Coming Out Day, supports a select group of national prevention research centers; UMD’s is the only one focused on eliminating LGBTQ+ mental health disparities. It aims to establish best practices for training mental health care providers, and provide scientific evidence to inform health systems, policies and practices that support LGBTQ+ health across the U.S.

A diverse team of researchers from the School of Public Health are joined in the effort by a growing coalition of LGBTQ+ mental health and health care organizations and community partners.

“The University of Maryland is a recognized leader in supporting LGBTQ+ health and well-being,” said Brad Boekeloo, a professor of behavioral and community health who is the director and principal investigator for the UMD Prevention Research Center. “We’re all working together to serve and lift up the most vulnerable LGBTQ people.”

LGBTQ+ patients often face stigma, discrimination and general lack of resources when seeking health care. Transgender or nonbinary people, for example, may feel excluded as soon as they’re handed an intake form that offers choices only of “male” and “female.”

Beginning in 2009, UMD-PRC focused on HIV prevention plans and intervention programs in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region. Now, with its expanded mission, the center will serve as a hub to connect providers, researchers and LGBTQ+ individuals and allies.

UMD-PRC will implement and evaluate an LGBTQ+ cultural competency training to equip providers with the sensitivity and knowledge needed to work with clients of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, and it will assess the success of these trainings through simulated online clinic sessions.

The center also aims to provide scientific evidence to inform health systems, policies and practices on topics including:

  • Creating more inclusive health insurance policies
  • Encouraging policies and legislation that would ban conversion therapy and other discriminatory pseudoscientific approaches
  • Supporting LGBTQ+ youth and parents in child welfare systems
  • Expanding gender inclusive facilities
  • Increasing mental health care access for LGBTQ+ people in rural areas 
  • Preventing substance abuse in LGBTQ+ youth

“The Prevention Research Center is dedicated to trying to elevate awareness, knowledge and competent training for mental health care providers so that it can be a pathway to wellness for this population,” said Jessica Fish, a core research scientist with UMD-PRC and assistant professor of family science.


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