MPH Grad Works to Close the Gap on LGBTQ+ Health

University of Guelph MPH grad Shannon Brown recently received a $25,000 award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for their Hacking the Knowledge Gap—Trainee Award for Innovative Thinking to Support LGBTQI2S Health and Wellness. Her project “Men tan too: Addressing the absence of queer men in skin cancer prevention efforts,” won her the award. 

Brown’s project started as part of her Applied Public Health Research course with Dr. Jennifer McWhirter, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Medicine. Through this opportunity, they produced a systematic review, which examines skin cancer and UV radiation exposure among sexual minorities. The research paper, currently under review for publication, was recently presented by Brown at the International Conference on UV and Skin Cancer Prevention in Toronto. They used this work, combined with their Health Communication and Knowledge Translation expertise, to inform the CIHR proposal. 

“I’m delighted that Shannon is a recipient of this award. It’s a wonderful and well-deserved opportunity for her, and a chance to draw attention to this important public health issue though a communication lens,” said professor McWhirter.

The CIHR award provided Brown with funding to attend a “design jam” in Vancouver, which aimed to bridge the gap between knowledge and action in the area of LBGTQ+ health. Brown’s project acknowledged the gap in public health efforts to reduce tanning among sexual minority (gay and bisexual) men, which earned her a spot to attend the "design jam". 

In Vancouver, Brown collaborated with a team of researchers, communications experts, designers, and community members to close the knowledge-action gap with respect to HPV vaccination rates among men who have sex with men (MSM). This is a particularly important topic in the LGBTQ+ community, as MSM are 20 times more likely to develop anal cancer, and HPV is a risk factor for developing this type of cancer.  

The result? Brown and her team designed the ‘Cover your Butt’ campaign—a cheeky awareness campaign to empower young MSM to get vaccinated against HPV in order to protect themselves from developing anal cancer, and continue to have healthy sex lives. “The "design jam" style was a completely new and novel approach to health promotion. It really pushed you to think outside the box and resulted in a lot more innovative solutions,” reflected Brown on her experience in Vancouver.  

Her team’s two-minute pitch to sell this campaign to LGBTQ+ health organizations was voted the best of 11 competing teams. As a result, they received an opportunity to partner with Cossette Health, a Toronto-based marketing and communications agency, to implement this awareness campaign. She is currently working with her team and Cossette Health to turn the ‘Cover your Butt’ campaign from an idea to reality.