The National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded NYU Silver PhD Candidate Sabrina Cluesman a two-year, $76,378 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F31) for her dissertation research. Her project will examine the impact of gender minority stress and gender affirmation on HIV preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use by Black and Latinx transgender and gender-expansive (e.g. gender non-binary, non-conforming, genderqueer) youth and emerging adults ages 13-24 years.
This highly prestigious grant enables promising predoctoral students who exhibit strong potential to develop into productive, independent research scientists by obtaining mentored research training while conducting dissertation research. Sabrina will complete her project under the mentorship of Professor and Associate Dean for Research Marya Gwadz, in whose Intervention Innovations Team Lab (IIT-Lab) she is based, along with a team of research scientists who hold expertise in methodology, HIV prevention, PrEP, youth and emerging adults, Black and Latinx, and trans and gender expansive populations.
A queer and trans youth and HIV researcher committed to anti-racism, intersectionality, and resilience, Sabrina noted that Black and Latinx transgender and gender expansive youth are among those at the highest risk for HIV infection, yet due to multiple intersecting factors, their PrEP “uptake,” or initiation of usage, is estimated to be between 3-8%, the lowest of any demographic group in the U.S. As a result, there is an urgent need for studies like the one Sabrina is undertaking, which explores how gender minority stress impacts PrEP and substance use behaviors among these populations and how those behaviors might be moderated by resilience factors, such as gender affirmation and community connectedness.
Sabrina’s study will use mixed methods and integrate both qualitative and quantitative approaches. First, she will conduct a quantitative analysis of a racially and ethnically diverse national sample of 1,029 transgender and gender-expansive youth and young adults who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Survey of Today’s Adolescent Relationships and Transitions (CDC START). Sabrina will then conduct semi-structured interviews with 30 Black and/or Latinx transgender and gender diverse youth from the local NYC community, half of whom are currently prescribed PrEP.
“The goal of this research,” Sabrina said, “is to describe the nuanced barriers to and facilitators of PrEP use for Black and Latinx transgender and gender-expansive youth and to understand more clearly their effects on PrEP intentions, awareness, use, and persistence to inform and tailor interventions aimed at preventing HIV infection among this vulnerable population. This will ultimately contribute to efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S.”
Sabrina is deeply committed to working with queer and trans youth largely due to her lived experiences as a queer person growing up in the South. “Growing up in a conservative environment took its toll on me and my peers in the queer community, often leading to multiple health inequites that I feel very driven to find solutions for,”she said. Prior to joining Silver’s PhD program, Sabrina spent 20 years in nonprofit work, most of them working for JASMYN, an LGBTQ youth drop-in center in Jacksonville, FL, where she led the clinical and case management services. Sabrina said, “the deep relationships I developed with the amazing staff and young people at JASMYN coupled with the significant barriers to HIV prevention and care I saw in my clinical work led me to expand on this work in my PhD program. I am committed to research that contributes to structural level changes for the queer community.”
Sabrina expressed gratitude to her dissertation committee, Dr. Gwadz, Dr. Michelle Munson, and Dr. Charles Cleland, an Associate Professor in the NYU School of Medicine, both who also serve as mentors. on the study, and NYU Silver’s PhD program as a whole. “I chose NYU for my PhD because of the program’s emphasis on preparing students to become leading researchers and educators in the health and well-being of marginalized communities and in the promotion of social justice. This vision, the rigorous training offered in statistical and research methodologies, and the opportunity to work with Dr. Gwadz solidified my choice. My coursework, training, and diverse, rigorous research experiences in the IIT-Lab have provided me with a solid foundation for this F31 award, and ultimately, a productive, independent academic research career.”
Dr. Gwadz noted, “Sabrina’s research focuses on an understudied population and addresses a critical public health problem. Her insights into this large and growing group of gender expansive younger people have developed over the course of her clinical career, and evolved during her time in the PhD program. We are confident this F31-funded study will play a critical role both in advancing her independent research career and helping solve the serious problem of high HIV incidence rates among this group of young people.”