For Leigh Bukowski, M.P.H., having the opportunity to present her LGBT-related research at the 2016 AIDS International Conference in South Africa was a dream come true.
A few short hours after her presentation, the experience was made even more special when she was awarded the 2016 Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren Prize for Young Investigators for Track D, Social and Political Research, Law, Policy and Human Rights. Her abstract, “Physical assault partially mediates the impact of transgender status on depression and poly-substance use among Black MSM and Black transgender women in the United States: results from POWER,” was selected from over 6,700 other abstracts for the prestigious award.
“It’s really important we have people advocating for change on all levels: community, direct service and policy change,” she said. “My goal is to use my skills to explore health disparities in this population and ultimately find solutions.”
Bukowski researched the differences between gay black men and black transgender women. Though they are not the same, the two groups are often clumped together as one in HIV/AIDS-related research, she said. This is because the two groups engage in similar sexual relations. However, they have very different identities and are therefore treated differently in society.
She compared the rates of physical assault, substance use and depression between the two populations, and found that those incidences occur much more often in black transgender women than gay black men, proving that the two populations have very different experiences and should be treated as such.
“Though they have similar behaviors, their lived experiences are vastly different,” Bukowski said.
Bukowski currently serves as a project coordinator for Promoting Our Worth, Equality, and Resilience (POWER) in the Center for LGBT Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Before receiving a master’s degree in public health at Pitt, she worked at an organization trying to improve the lives of refugees and minority groups in Vermont.
She credits Ronald Stall, Ph.D., and Robert W.S. Coulter, M.P.H., both of Pitt Public Health, for providing mentorship with her analysis, abstract and presentation. She plans on donating part of her award to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the Transgender Law Center.