About the Director
Karen L. Parker, Ph.D., M.S.W. currently serves as Director of the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office, NIH. Dr. Parker was instrumental in the formation of the office in the fall of 2015 and was appointed as Director in June, 2016. The office coordinates NIH research related to the health of sexual and gender minorities across the NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices. In her new role, she also serves as co-chair of the trans-NIH Sexual and Gender Minority Research Coordinating Committee (RCC) and has served on the committee since its inception in 2011.
The office was established in response to the 2011 NIH-commissioned Institute of Medicine Report (now the National Academy of Medicine), which highlighted opportunities where NIH could better support current knowledge of the health status of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. It is part of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives within the NIH Office of the Director.
Dr. Parker comes to the NIH Office of the Director from the National Cancer Institute where she served as an Acting Branch Chief in the NCI Office of Science Planning and Assessment and Women’s Health Officer for the Institute. Prior to this, she was the Special Assistant to the President’s Cancer Panel. She began her career at NIH in 2001 as a Presidential Management Fellow. Dr. Parker has long been part of the discussion on the diverse health issues affecting sexual and gender minority communities and the need for initiatives to support research and training in this area. Dr. Parker is also Past-President of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
Dr. Parker received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Indiana University and her Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan, where she studied community organization, social policy, and evaluation. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.
Director's Voice Blog
January 6, 2019: New Year's Reflections & the Importance of Pronouns
Going into a new year, it’s important to reflect on the past year to celebrate our successes and contemplate new directions for the future. I am proud to say that 2019 was a pivotal and successful year for the SGMRO. Our staff expanded with the addition of three new staff members, allowing us to greatly augment our capacity. We celebrated and recognized scholars in the field of SGM health, hosted the agency’s first-ever scientific workshop on bisexual health, collaborated to successfully publish an RFA on SGM Measurement, and expanded our presence across the agency through staff participation in numerous working groups and steering committees.
However, while we’ve made significant progress in advocating for SGM health research across the NIH, we still have much work left to do, especially in advocating for equitable and inclusive treatment of SGM colleagues within the agency and beyond. As some of you may remember, results of the NIH Workplace Climate and Harassment Survey indicated that gender minorities (e.g., transgender, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming individuals) report alarming rates of harassment here at the NIH. In my capacity as the co-chair of the OD Anti-Harassment Champions Workgroup, I am a part of an effort seeking to reduce these disparities and eliminate incivility in our workplace altogether.
In that spirit, as we embark on a new year, I am writing today to emphasize the importance of pronouns. Pronouns are not just words; they are a way to convey one’s gender identity. Individuals whose gender identify deviates from binary constructs or expectations of gender may use pronouns other than “he/him” or “she/her.” These include “they,” “them,” “theirs,” and others.
Refusing to use preferred pronouns is a form of harassment, which can create a hostile environment. Learning someone’s pronouns is as simple as learning someone’s name. The experience of being misgendered can be hurtful as it is tantamount to invalidating who a person is at their core. Acknowledging and accurately using a person’s pronouns goes beyond basic courtesy. It creates mutual respect between individuals and an environment that is both gender-affirming and tolerant.
One way that we can help to promote appropriate use of pronouns is to be open about our own pronouns. This may include announcing pronouns at the beginning of meetings, adding pronouns to your email signature, and introducing yourself with your pronouns.
Everyone deserves to work in an environment that is both respectful and affirming of their gender identity. It is my hope that by taking small steps like including pronouns in everyday communications, we can begin to take larger strides in making the NIH a more inclusive agency in 2020 and beyond. We can do better. We must do better.
December 11, 2019: Bisexual Health Research Workshop
Despite the fact that bisexual people (bi/bi+) make up over half of the LGB population in the United States and are considered the largest of the sexual and gender minority (SGM) subgroups, they are woefully and disproportionately underrepresented in SGM health research. Moreover, given that definitions of bisexuality vary considerably across research studies and data on sexual orientation groups are often pooled, distinct health risk profiles and unique health challenges that bisexual individuals face may be distorted. This is alarming, considering a growing body of research also suggests that bisexual individuals face an increased relative risk for adverse mental and physical health outcomes in comparison to other LG and heterosexual counterparts.
In order to advance understanding of bisexual health disparities, the NIH Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) hosted its first ever scientific workshop on bisexual health research in September 2019. Our office convened a group of researchers with expertise in bisexual health, measurement, and other disciplines to discuss the most recent scientific findings on bi/bi+ health across the life course and to identify crucial knowledge gaps and research opportunities.
I am pleased to say that this day-long workshop culminated in robust discussion and intensive brainstorming sessions that led to identification of research priorities and gaps in bisexual health across four key areas: life course perspective, intersecting populations, key health inequities in bi/bi+ populations, and social determinants of bisexual health. For those of you interested, an archived videocast of the workshop is available for public viewing.
Our office has released a summary document that reflects the content of the discussion among participants at the workshop, as well as topics for further research across each key area. While this document does not represent an official position of the NIH or any other government agency, it is my hope that the opportunities identified will help guide the field of bisexual health research and raise the overall visibility and representation of bisexual people in health research in the years to come.
Click here to see the full Bisexual Health Workshop Summary Document.
October 8, 2019: NIH SGM Research Investigator Awards Program
NIH is proud to recognize two early-stage investigators and one distinguished investigator for their substantial and outstanding research contributions in areas related to SGM health. On September 17, the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SMGRO) hosted the second annual Sexual & Gender Minority (SGM) Research Investigator Awards Program. Drs. Katie Biello and Lindsay Taliaferro received the Early-Stage Investigator Award, and Dr. Karen Fredriksen Goldsen received the Distinguished Investigator Award. For those of your who were unable to attend the event, I encourage you to see the archived videocast of the event to learn more about the important research conducted by our awardees.
The NIH SGM Investigator Awards Program was developed to strengthen the community of researchers and scholars who conduct research relevant to SGM health and well-being, which addresses one of the goal areas of the NIH SGM Strategic Plan for FY 2016 – FY 2020. It is our hope that this awards program not only provides much needed visibility and recognition to researchers in this community, but also propagates SGM health research by attracting and retaining new investigators to this field of study.
We know SGM populations face significant and unique health disparities, and we know that more research needs to be conducted in order to better assess, understand, and address those disparities. To do that, we need to develop and expand the research workforce dedicated to SGM health research, and to ensure that there are resources and support in place for these researchers.
SGMRO remains dedicated to fortifying the community of SGM health researchers and scholars. In addition to the investigator awards program, the office has conducted numerous regional workshops around the country to build networks of SGM researchers, students, fellows, administrators, and the community with the NIH and the SGMRO. Moving forward, as we work on developing the NIH SGM Strategic Plan for FY 2021 – FY 2025, we hope to explore new ways to best support a growing SGM health research workforce.
We plan to release the call for nominations for next year’s SGM Research Investigator Awards Program sometime in early 2020, so stay tuned! Be sure to subscribe to the SGM listserv to receive any relevant announcements.
June 19, 2019: NIH Workplace Climate and Harassment Survey Interim Report
On June 12, NIH released the interim results of the NIH Workplace Climate and Harassment Survey, which was administered earlier this year to NIH employees, contractors, fellows, and trainees. This preliminary analysis of the survey yielded some concerning results, especially when examining data on sexual and gender minorities.
According to the analysis, over the previous 12 months 28.6 percent of gay and lesbian respondents and 41.2 percent of bisexual respondents indicated having experienced some form sexual harassment, which was notably higher than the 20.2% reported among heterosexual respondents. Of the individuals who identified as either transgender, genderqueer, questioning, or other, an alarming 44.8% indicated having experienced some form of sexual harassment, which was substantially higher when compared to cis-gender respondents.
These findings echo research findings that sexual and gender minority populations are more vulnerable to experiencing prejudice, discrimination, and sexual harassment. It also highlights the work that remains at NIH in ensuring that all employees, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, experience a work environment free of harassment. This interim report provides a preliminary analysis, and the data need to be further analyzed to better understand the factors that contribute to harassment at the NIH and to refine policies and take additional steps based on these secondary analyses.
Moving forward, the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office will work alongside NIH leadership in advocating for our sexual and gender minority colleagues, as well us discussing future directions to help eliminate sexual harassment across not only these communities, but the entire agency.
June 3, 2019: Celebrating Pride Month at NIH
June marks the beginning of Pride Month, which not only commemorates the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but also celebrates sexual and gender diversity across the nation. It is a time to reflect on and recognize the immense hardships and obstacles sexual and gender minority (SGM) communities have overcome, and those that they continue to face today. While we celebrate the progress made thus far, we understand that much work still needs to be done, especially when it comes to achieving optimal health outcomes within SGM communities.
The Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes the significant health disparities that continue to exist within SGM populations and remains committed to ensuring that these populations are included and represented in research across the NIH. In honor of Pride Month, I am proud to announce that the SGMRO will be releasing its FY 2018 Annual Report and FY 2017 Portfolio Analysis in the coming weeks, which will highlight progress made at the NIH in coordinating and promoting SGM health research and related activities.
I am also proud to say that the SGMRO is leading implementation of recommendations made by the NIH Sexual & Gender Minority Research Working Group of the Council of Councils, following a mid-course progress review for the FY 2016-FY 2020 Strategic Plan to Advance Health Research on the Health and Well-being of Sexual and Gender Minorities. In order to meet one of these recommendations, the SGMRO recently brought onboard three new staff members to assist with strategic planning, programmatic management, and communications. These individuals bring with them an array of experiences which will indubitably help the SGMRO in addressing the rest of the Working Group’s recommendations, allowing the NIH to continue to expand efforts across the agency.
Here at the SGMRO, and the NIH, we remain deeply committed to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our research and our workplace. We understand that in order to best embody our agency’s mission of turning discovery into health, we must continue to be inclusive of all communities in our research and all related activities, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It is my hope that during Pride month, all of us take a moment to celebrate the broad diversity of SGM communities and recognize the work that remains in understanding and reducing health disparities within these communities.
From the SGMRO to you, Happy Pride month!
This page last reviewed on January 6, 2020