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Keeping LGBTQ people healthy and happy

Alumnus studies Stonewall generation
September 20, 2017
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By Richard Burnett

Research scientist Robert-Paul Juster, BA 06, says he is extremely pleased as a proudly out gay man to be conducting studies on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) populations to better their health and happiness. 

“Absolutely!” Juster says. “As scientists we are force-fed this notion that our research has to be objective and completely non-personal. But once you form a hypothesis, you cease to be objective. This area of research is one I always wanted to get into.” 

A postdoctoral fellow with the Program for the Study of LGBT Health in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Juster is researching chronic stress in LGBTQ populations that are still subject to institutional discrimination, harassment and bullying, as well as high rates of suicide, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. 

Robert-Paul Juster, BA 06 Robert-Paul Juster is proud to be conducting studies on LGBTQ populations

“My main area of focus the last five years has been stress biomarkers on the LGBTQ communities in order to understand how stress affects them and how coping strategies in the communities lead to profiles that are quite healthy and demonstrate quite a bit of wellness,” he explains. “My research shows how coming out of the closet actually garners health benefits that make the LGBTQ community a bit more resilient than mainstream society.” 

Juster is also exploring stress levels among the Stonewall generation — those who were marked by the so-called “Stonewall Riots” of 1969 in New York City that ignited the modern-day LGBTQ civil rights movement in America. “One area I’m looking at is older gay and lesbian New Yorkers who would actually have been at Stonewall,” Juster says. “We really don’t know anything about the health of these older LGBTQ individuals, though our research is showing — especially among double minorities, such as black lesbians — that the effect of stigma doesn’t seem to be having the negative health effects that we would expect.” 

Making science accessible

Juster credits his time at Concordia for helping shape his career. He especially points to James Pfaus, a professor in the university’s Department of Psychology whose area of expertise is measuring sexual desire and pleasure in men and women. “Jim is a really amazing sex researcher. I was a student in his Hormones and Behaviour class,” he says. 

“Jim was such an inspiration — he is one of the top researchers at Concordia, but he is so down to earth and very pure in his passion for science,” Juster adds. “He had a way of making science very accessible, and that was really important for me to find my own voice as a researcher. I wasn’t a great student in his class, but he was a great supporter of my ideas. I fell in love with the fields of psychoneuroendocrinology, and he has been a strong supporter of my career. We have even co-authored two papers together.” 

Juster’s research has been front-page news in The Globe and Mail. He shares the results of his work at international conferences and on social media and even writes specific press releases for LGBTQ and other media. “Taxpayers are paying for these studies, so it is important that all people know what the results are,” says Juster. He adds that his research can help “not just LGBTQ people, but all people.” 

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