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The 3-Minute Interview: LGBT health educator Stephen Forssell

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Forssell is director of the new LGBT Health Graduate Program at George Washington University, the first of its kind in the nation.

What sparked this program?

It arose from public health research. The health disparities in the LGBT community have been documented for quite a while going back to HIV. HIV has gotten the most public attention, but the expanded research show there's quite a number of disparities.

What are some of the greatest disparities in LGBT health compared with the average population?

There are mental health issues that are quite pronounced: higher rates of depression and suicide, substance abuse, cigarette smoking at higher levels. There are higher rates of breast cancer in lesbian women that might be related to pregnancies. Lesbian women tend to have higher rates of obesity, and [gay] men have higher eating disorders. The research has shown ways to address it.

What will the students learn?

We decided to focus on three pillars: physical health, mental health and health policy. And given the focus on applied health, we thought it was very important to have a project where students can make something that will be used out in the world.

What is the goal for the program to address the health issues in the LGBT community?

Our goal is to produce a cohort of individuals who are well-equipped for the needs that are clearly out there. One of the challenges facing them will be addressing and working within a system that is not even considering sexual orientation as a factor, like hospital forms that don't even address sexuality. Also that they have the capacity to organize and educate their peers.

- Steve Contorno