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March 2017 - John Shaver

March 2017

John Shaver

BS Nursing; minor, International Studies (Global Environment and Health) ‘17

Hometown: St. Johns, MI

Affiliations: Research Assistant at the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, research assistant for Dr. Marie-Anne Rosemberg of the Occupational Health Program at UMSN, Youth Advisory Board member at the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, Student Advisory Board member for Dr. Michelle Munro-Kramer at UMSN

“During the past summer (2016), I was fortunate to travel to South Africa and Namibia to participate in a research internship investigating optimal manners of engaging partnered men who have sex with men (MSM) in both countries in HIV-preventive efforts. I worked under the direction of Dr. Heidi van Rooyen of the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, and in collaboration with co-Investigators from the University of Michigan, Dr. Lynae Darbes and Dr. Rob Stephenson, as well as Dr. Tim Lane of UCSF. During the internship, I was stretched and challenged frequently, and was repeatedly confronted with the importance of cultural humility.

The commencement of my time in southern Africa was a week-long meeting in Namibia regarding the project with which I was primarily assisting, a study examining HIV prevention and relationship dynamics within male-male primary partnerships. The meetings were packed with a large amount of information and some heated debates between study leads, study implementers, and community activists from both South Africa and Namibia who had been invited to add their voices throughout the formative stages of the study. My learning about cultural humility and how to engage in a human-rights dialogue through health advocacy began during that week and continued for the following several weeks. Community activists were quite adamant at the meeting about a variety of specific points, chief among them that all research activities should seek to advance the health and rights of LGBTQI people in both countries. While this had been held importantly in mind throughout the proposal and beginning stages of the research implementation, and was the impetus for including local LGBTQI rights organizations throughout the research process, activists were quick to inform and remind each of us that researchers have a history of claiming to work toward rights in the region, but disappear as soon as their relevant data are collected. This project is seeking to advance the scientific community’s knowledge of same-sex couples in the region, but has been, and continues to be, intentional in its rights-based advocacy approach; however, Hearing a great deal about the history of conducting research in the region, however, felt incredibly significant to me, and a number of purposeful conversations occurred as a result.

These discussions led to my increased understanding that I was informed that there have been numerous recent advances in awareness and sensitivity toward the needs of some LGBTQI subpopulations—specifically gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The World Health Organization identified MSM as a key population in the reduction of HIV infection and transmission worldwide. As a result, in recent years, there have been a number of different studies seeking to understand and reduce HIV transmission within this population, including the one with which I was fortunate to collaborate. This narrative that has emphasized certain LGBTQI individuals—queer men—was also critiqued. What I additionally discovered through conversing both professionally and personally was that the manner of advocacy for other queer people, especially transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, had been somewhat limited, given the large amount of resources and international attention given to MSM. Many activists and activist-minded researchers took issue with the idea that a human-rights agenda should be manipulated to fit the goals of a study or an internationally determined HIV reduction task list.

Discovering more and more about the history and climate of LGBTQI-related research and activism in the region led me to critically reflect on my own future. I hope to become a researcher that collaborates with a number of entities, both domestic and international, to advance the health of LGBTQI people. As queer people face such great disparities in health and healthcare access, it is incredibly important work, and work which I am incredibly motivated to perform. I was beginning to become keenly aware, however, that I must continually look at my own self and my own engagement with these topics in a way that acknowledges that I am not the expert on anyone else’s experience. In order to advance the right of LGBTQI people, of whom I represent only one individual, I must be willing to hear and take advice from those activists who are steeped in the laborious, and at times dangerous, work of on-the-ground activism every day.”

Future plans: “I plan to become a PhD-prepared nurse researcher. I would like to work with LGBTQI, low-wage worker, and other vulnerable populations to increase access to healthcare, as well as determine and implement best practices for providers to engage with diverse patient populations in an ever complicating healthcare system.”