Grant to Support LGBT Project

In an effort to shed light on stereotypes and anxieties about people in the LGBT community and their perceived effects on children, the Ford Foundation has awarded a $730,000 grant to fund a two-year research project by the Face Value Campaign in collaboration with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

Face Value’s winning project, one of six to receive an award from the Ford Foundation to examine youth sexuality in the US, will examine public perceptions of LGBT sexuality with a focus on how the public thinks contact with LGBT adults affects children. The research will be overseen by Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy ’93 along with Renee R. Gosline at MIT and Patrick Egan at NYU.

“This grant allows us to really understand what is it about children in relationship to gay people that translates into a perception of harm, and investigate how can we translate that to positive association,” said the Executive Director of Face Value Julie R. Davis, adding that this specific area has not been adequately studied in over 30 years.

Face Value, started by McCarthy and Davis in the spring of 2009, aims to connect critical academic studies with social movements and activism, focusing on developing research plans that look at prejudices against LGBT sexuality in order to create public education campaigns.

“We’re trying to bring together the expertise of academia and the experience of activism,” said McCarthy, who cited three goals to this approach. “We aim to challenge existing stereotypes around sex, sexuality, and gender identity; to change the public discourse with respect to how people relate to, talk about, and act towards LGBT people; and to create a world in which LGBT people are fully recognized and embraced as equal human beings.”

Roberta Achtenberg, a member of Face Value’s advisory board and former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—the first openly lesbian or gay U.S. public official to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate—said that the project’s goal of both conducting research and putting its findings into application will be a significant service to the LGBT movement.

“The thing that’s most important about Face Value’s work is that it will do research and craft messages that will change attitudes for public policy,” said Achtenberg. “The LGBT movement has never undertaken that kind of approach before, and it is much needed and long overdue.”

Davis said that Face Value’s research for this two-year project will include interviews and focus groups as well as qualitative research to examine the messages being used about LGBT people, adding that the organization plans to connect with 10 to 15 LGBT organizations who will participate in developing research questions and types of interventions.

“This is something we have been fighting and combating for years but no one has ever taken the time or the opportunity to get to its underlying root causes,” she said.

McCarthy added that research of this nature is particularly significant in light of the anti-LGBT bullying leading to a series of suicides early in the fall.

“Homophobia is the thing that harms children, not homosexuals,” he said. “We’re confronting a reality where homophobia is literally killing some of our youth, and a financial commitment of this amount from a leading international foundation is a game-changer.”

—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at aeunderw@fas.harvard.edu.

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