Jack Simons is a researcher involved in the Tucson branch of the federally funded Generations Study, a long term investigation into the experiences of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Simons and collegues have interviewed more than 50 Tucsonans and they are looking for more. Similar interviews are being conducted by Generations Study researchers in San Francisco, New York, and Austin, Texas. Simons also works as a school counselor at Esperero Canyon Middle School.
Why does the Generations Study wish to conduct interviews?
The interviews are really to illuminate what's going to be found in a nationwide quantitative survey, to bring life to those questions. The qualitative views of these interviews have been really important because they will give voice to quantitative research which is sometimes limited.
As we know, as people grow and develop, especially non-dominant groups of people, they have stories that are very personal and very unique in regards to how they wrestled and developed and persevered to become who they are.
What kind of things do you focus on in an interview?
We are looking at the areas of sexual orientation and sexual identity development, stress, coping strategies, the intersections of identities with regard to communities people are involved in. The last major area that is being studied is healthcare access and experience with medical care as well as mental health care. That's kind of the broad paintbrush of everything.
What is the goal of the study?
I think it is important to know that this is advocacy based research so the aim is to improve policy and also to develop an understanding of how intersections of identity have played into who they are. Also, we hope to highlight the need for more support within the healthcare field for the sexual minority communities as well. It's really about making systemic changes that will benefit the LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) communities.
What drew you to the Generations Study?
As a gay man, obviously it is personal. Professionally, I believe that the study is really important because, as a school counselor ... school experiences are experiences that are with people for a long time. As a school counselor advocate dedicated to being visible and trying to be a positive role model around these issues, having people hear these stories is quite profound.
How does someone become part of the study?
They can go to www.generationsscreen.com where they can answer several items and they will be put in our database and screened for participation in the study. People who are selected for the study will receive $75 ... and folks who participate don't have to answer questions if they don't want to. There is no pressure. They can walk away and still be considered eligible people to participate and still be paid ... Our interviewees are no older than the age of 59 and ... we are still looking for more participants from the Native American community.
What has it been like to hear all of these personal stories?
It's an honor and it's a privilege, and it's also, at times, very stressful. Our practice at this point is to interview no more than two people in one day. You talk about stress and perhaps things you have gone through from a personal perspective or not. You know, we are empathetic people that care about making a difference with the research that we do. We are going to be affected in profound ways.
I am thrilled to be involved in the study. I respect the people who are eligible and decide to participate and I am honored to be a mechanism by which they can tell their story and have that information funneled into something that, hopefully, will make a bigger difference in the world. Some days, it is really tiring and draining, but it is worth it.