Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) Staff

Headshot of Karen ParkerKaren Parker, Ph.D., M.S.W.

Pronouns: She/Her
Phone: 301-451-2055

Karen L. Parker currently serves as Director of the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Parker was instrumental in the formation of the office in the fall of 2015 and was appointed Director in June 2016. In her role as Director, Dr. Parker is co-chair of the trans-NIH Sexual and Gender Minority Research Coordinating Committee (RCC), a committee on which she has served since its inception in 2011, and co-chair of the NIH SGM Research Working Group of the Council of Councils. Dr. Parker is also a member of the NIH Anti-Harassment Steering Committee and serves as the co-chair of the NIH Office of the Director Equity Council. Additionally, she sits as an ad-hoc member on the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director Working Group on Diversity.

Dr. Parker is involved in several SGM-related initiatives beyond NIH. She serves as co-chair of the Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Research Group, an entity of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, as well as an Executive Director of the Department of Health and Human Services LGBTQI+ Coordinating Committee. In 2021, Dr. Parker received the LGBTQ Health Achievement Award, from GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, for her contributions towards advancing the field of SGM health and health equity for SGM communities.

Dr. Parker began her NIH career in 2001 as a Presidential Management Fellow at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). She spent several years at NCI, serving in various roles in the Office of the Director. 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 subsequently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.


Headshot of Irene AvilaIrene Avila, Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Pronouns: She/Her/Ella

Phone: 301-594-9701

Irene Avila, Ph.D., currently serves as the Assistant Director for the SGMRO, having joined the office in April. Irene’s role in SGMRO involves the management of operational activities, strategic planning, and the executive secretary for the Council of Councils Sexual and Gender Minority Research Working Group. Irene previously served as the Special Assistant to Dr. Hannah Valentine, the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, and the Executive Secretary to the NIH Director’s Advisory Committee’s Working Group on Diversity. Dr. Avila’s work has focused on postdoc and early-career investigator programming that sought to enhance diversity inclusion and retention in the biomedical research workforce. She received her Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Arizona State University. Her dissertation was conducted at NINDS through the Graduate Partnership Program and she completed a postdoc at NIA.

Headshot of Anthony AndersonAnthony Anderson
Operations Coordinator
Pronouns: He/Him
Phone: 301-402-9616

Anthony Anderson is the Operations Coordinator for SGMRO.  Anthony is a native Washingtonian and began his time with NIH in 2013 at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as an Administrative Technician. He later worked for the Division of Management Support (DMS) as a Junior Program Analyst and moved to his new role as Operations Coordinator with SGMRO in August. On a personal note, Anthony is an avid sci-fi movie watcher and has seen the movie Avengers: Endgame roughly 25 times (so far). His greatest joy is being a father; Anthony’s son Rahmaan is an honor roll student and is a sophomore in high school.

Headshot of Christopher BarnhartChristopher Barnhart, Ph.D.
Health Science Policy Analyst
Pronouns: He/Him
Phone: 301-594-8983

Christopher Barnhart is currently a Health Science Policy Analyst in the SGMRO where he supports and promotes the health of sexual and gender minority communities through analysis and administration of grants, strategic planning, workshop development, outreach coordination, and representation on relevant trans-NIH and -HHS committees and working groups. Prior to coming to the SGMRO, Christopher was an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow on detail to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, where he analyzed and reported on NICHD activities in supporting and protecting pediatric and maternal health and in addressing relevant health disparities to a diverse array of internal and external stakeholders. He also organized and conducted outreach efforts to understand and address issues of equity in health, education, and participation in STEM, as well as to encourage and foster the next generation of scientists. Christopher received his doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from UC Davis in 2015, and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, focusing at both institutions on how environmental toxicants and individual genetic factors may interact to affect the developing nervous system.


Headshot of Ryan MahonWillow, M.S.W.
Program Analyst
Pronouns: They/Them
Phone: 301-594-0245

Willow has served, since the inception of the office, as the program analyst for the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, located in the NIH Office of the Director. In this capacity, Willow supports all aspects of the SGMRO, including the implementation of the trans-NIH SGM Research Strategic Plan, collaborations with the Tribal Health Research Office and other ICOs, data collection and analysis, and the measurement of progress towards our strategic goals.

Before joining NIH, Willow worked in consulting at private firms specializing in program evaluation in human services, and as a clinician. Willow has worked in a wide range of clinical and social science research settings, with supranational, national, state, provincial, and local governments, always contributing to ground-breaking research, and organizational evolution in vulnerable populations, including children, the poor, sexual and gender minorities, the imprisoned, and Native Americans.

Willow began their college education at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA. They then completed a B.A. in psychology with a minor in history, and went on to earn a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. Willow identifies as male and gay and prefers the gender-neutral pronouns 'they' and 'them.' They live in Maryland with their schnoodle, Oliver, and both adore peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


Headshot of Christina Dragon

Christina Dragon, MSPH, CHES

Measurement and Data Lead

Pronouns: She/Her


Christina serves as the Measurement and Data Lead in the SGMRO. Her main role includes operationalizing the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report, “Measuring Sex, Measuring Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation for the National Institutes of Health”. Previously she served as the Sexual and Gender Minority Data Lead in Medicare’s Office of Minority Health and as the data analyst for the Health People 2020 LGBT Health topic area at the National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, as well as working on the Healthy People 2020 LGBT Health topic are in the earlier stages of development while at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). While not directly related to SGM populations, Christina also worked on two infectious disease public health emergencies, the Ebola Response (2015-2016) with the CDC and the COVID-19 pandemic response (2020-2021) while working to protect worker safety and health with OSHA.


Christina has served in leadership of the LGBTQ Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association since 2012 in roles from secretary, to chair, to policy chair. She serves as the Terminology Subgroup lead for the Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Research Group, part of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (FCSM). She holds a Masters’ Degree from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a double major from Smith College in Neuroscience and Woman and Gender Studies. A native New Mexican, Christina is deeply committed to intersectional research and public health practice, the idea that populations and communities must achieve equity through data representation, and an eternal love of green chile.  In her free time, she reads, runs marathons, and goes on adventures with her plott hound, Dawson.


Headshot of Sara OmarSara Omar, Ph.D.
Health Science Policy Analyst

Pronouns: She/Her

Dr. Sara Omar recently joined SGMRO as a Health Science Policy Analyst. She is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Omar received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and recently completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Middle East Studies at the MacMillan Center at Yale University. Her current book projects focus on the genealogy of same-sex sexual practices in the formation of Muslim discourses. Her work underscores insights that can be gained from studying same-sex sexual practices as a means of understanding the legal, ethical, and social genealogies that have authorized various practices and beliefs as authentically Islamic while also disqualifying and silencing others. She received a Fulbright Fellowship in Syria, where she conducted fieldwork on female religious authority. Her research and teaching interests include Islamic intellectual history, gender and sexuality, religious authority, and violence.


Shyam Patel
Communications Director
Pronouns: He/His
Phone: 301-827-0388

Shyam Patel serves as the Communications Expert for the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office at the National Institutes of Health. Previously, Shyam served as the Senior Communications and Education Associate at GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, a national organization committed to ensuring health equity for SGM individuals. His work primarily involved managing GLMA's education initiatives promoting LGBTQ health research, as well as directing organizational advocacy efforts that sought to advance equitable health policy. During his time at GLMA, he served as a board member on the PRIDEnet Participant Advisory Board, assisting with the development of community engagement initiatives, plans, and activities to best engage SGM individuals in health research for both the PRIDE Study and the NIH All of Us Research Program. Shyam received a dual Bachelor of Science in Pediatric Healthcare & Clinical Psychology from UMBC. While at UMBC, he was involved in clinical research at various institutions including UMBC, UMSOM, UPenn, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Headshot of nicole kaziNicole Kazi
Communications Specialist (C)
Pronouns: She/Her


Nicole Kazi serves as the Communications Specialist for the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office at the National Institutes of Health. Previously Nicole worked as a Communications and Membership Coordinator for Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. She also worked at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in the International Development program for four years. Nicole earned an M.A. in Liberal Arts at Johns Hopkins University, and a B.A. in International Development at UMBC. She is passionate about the accessibility of knowledge and earned a certificate in Science Writing also at Johns Hopkins University. Nicole volunteers with various national and local non-profit organizations translating their promotional and marketing materials from English to Spanish. She lives with two cats, Bucky and Peanut, and when she is not writing or reading science fiction and fantasy, she loves to bake.


Office Contact Information:
Office Email:
Office Fax: 301-480-4632

This page last reviewed on July 12, 2022