Recent Behavioral and Health Trends of LGBTQ Youth in Vermont
Growing up in a conservative California suburb, Ryan Kamkar had no queer role models nor knowledge of LGBTQ resources, and the prospect of coming out in high school was unfeasible to Kamkar and his sister, who is transgender. In college, volunteering with the Gay Men’s Health Collective at Berkeley armed Kamkar with knowledge about advocacy and “the profound influence a supportive community can have in positively shaping the way its members may self-identify,” he said. These experiences inform Kamkar’s research, documenting the behavioral and health trends of LGBTQ teenagers compared to their cisgender, straight peers in Vermont.
Kamkar uses data from the Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to analyze risk and protective factors including nutrition, access to specific mental health education and resources, and safe community spaces, and to assess their impacts on the overall health of LGBTQ-identifying youth.
“In Vermont, LGBTQ-identifying youth consistently identify greater rates of suicidal ideation and attempt, major depression, negative body image, tobacco use, and being physically threatened on school campus. By mapping out the most significant risk or protective factors in recent years, we can gain some critical insight on how our efforts can be better focused to support this marginalized population moving forward,” he said.
In California, Kamkar founded a student organization for queer college-aged volunteers to share their coming out stories at local middle and high schools and spread awareness of mental health resources. He plans to bring a similar elective course called “Our Closet”
to UVM students in spring 2023.
Kamkar’s inspiration to become a doctor stems from caring for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis: “Taking care of her while growing up gave me a unique perspective on the very real ways psychological stress manifests into physical conditions,” he said. “I find my current research project fulfilling because it lets me take a closer look at how certain community stressors affect the health of LGBTQ youth in Vermont. As a [future] doctor, I hope I can serve my population by advocating for both patient care and community resources.”