HEMS 4: Government policy on sexual orientation and gender identity and its impact on the mental health of LGBTQ+ people

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Sciences

Supervisors: Prof Catherine Meads; Prof Jeffrey Grierson

Location: Cambridge

The interview for this project is expected to take place on Thursday 20 April.

Over many years, numerous governments have legislated regarding sexual orientation and gender identity without clear understanding as to why people are in these minority groups, and with an aim to protect the majority from them.

Assumptions include that sexual orientation and gender identity are ‘lifestyle choices’, that people can be ‘converted’ from the majority to the minority, that minority is somehow threatening to the majority, and that the existence of these minority groups somehow threatens ‘family values’ or the British (or American, Australian, etc) way of life.

These assumptions are straightforward to challenge, but seem to persist in more socially conservative political parties and movements. Because these assumptions are not challenged within a political party or governing alliance, policy development based on them can result in harmful policies.

Negative and restrictive policies have been enacted in various jurisdictions around the world, and there is published evidence linking these policies to worsening mental health and increased mortality.

Alternatively, there have been some positive policies enacted, such as same sex marriage, which has been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing in LGBTQ+ people, on average.

This PhD project will investigate links between local/regional/central government policies regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity and mental health within the LGBTQ+ communities. The programme of work will be based around the following quality outcomes:

  • A review of published and grey literature evidence on the links between government policy on sexual orientation and gender identity and its impact on the mental health of LGBTQ+ people.
  • A review of UK Government Impact Assessments and whether any of them include LGBTQ+ issues.
  • A systematic review of one specific area of the links between government policy on sexual orientation and gender identity and its impact on the mental health of LGBTQ+ people.
  • Qualitative research (interviews and/or focus groups) of the links between a specific government policy on sexual orientation and gender identity and its impact on the mental health of relevant LGBTQ+ people locally. This could be with older lesbians and gays and the impact of Section 28, and with younger trans people and the impact of the lack of Gender Recognition Act reform.

The research will be both academically powerful, and undertaken with a strong commitment to advocacy on behalf of minority groups that have been subject to harmful and disempowering policy and legislation.

The audience for this work includes the LGBTQ+ community, policymakers and people who are interested in the interface between policy and the public.

Stakeholders include people from the LGBTQ+ community, who will not only be research participants but potentially users of the research. Political parties with an interest in minority group issues will have a key interest in the findings of the research.

The combination of mixed methods and a variety of data sources means that the results should be more robust and trustworthy, enhancing credibility even for sceptical audiences.

The effect of the research will be to clarify the extent to which policy change directly affects mental health. If it is shown that it has large effects, policymakers will need to bear this in mind when developing policy, and be more circumspect when planning policy that adversely affects communities.

This will also be of interest internationally, and could be used to challenge profoundly homophobic, biphobic or transphobic legislation.

It is clear from research that increasing numbers of the population identify as LGBTQ+, so increasing numbers of the population will find this research is relevant to them.

It will be supervised by Professors Catherine Meads and Jeffrey Grierson. Prof Meads is a qualified doctor and Professor of Health, and has been working in LGBT issues since the mid-1980s. She has over 25 publications on various aspects of LGBT health and was until recently a member of the Government Equalities Office LGBT Advisory Panel.

Prof Grierson is social researcher and Professor of Health and Social Care. He has over 25 years of experience of research in HIV/AIDS and sexuality, and has a special interest in social research as advocacy and activism.

If you would like to discuss this research project, please contact Prof Catherine Meads: catherine.meads@aru.ac.uk

Apply online by 19 March 2023

Funding notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2022/3 this was £17,688 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.