Shaun Adrian Flatt
Sacramentan Shaun Adrian Flatt ended a 12-year career in information technology in 2002 to attend graduate school and pursue a more people-oriented career. He wasn’t looking forward to doing the research required for his degree, but realized he’d have to get over that. Fortunately, through his graduate program, Flatt learned two things: that he actually loved qualitative research (hearing people’s stories) and that researching something one is passionate about makes a world of difference. He also happened upon a troubling statistic that further changed the way he felt about research: less than .01 percent of public health research was dedicated to the GLBT community, the bulk of it focused on sexually transmitted diseases. This was the genesis of Gay & Gender Research, the volunteer-run nonprofit Flatt founded in 2005 and now serves as president and principal researcher. Based in Davis, GGR aims to conduct research and to support other researchers through interviews and surveys or by offering grants and scholarships to researchers and documentary filmmakers. More information is online at http://gaygenderresearch.org.
How did you come up with the idea for GGR?
GGR was born out of a glaring need in the local community, and, at the very least, within the Western industrialized world, to create and promote LGBT research. When I started my first research project, I found it difficult to locate resources and other organizations conducting related research. … This is really important when you think about how academic research typically works. For example, if you are a master’s student and you want to do your thesis on, let’s say, the impact of religion on LGBT development, but no one has conducted research on the topic, you are likely going to have to abandon your project because there are no sources of literature. GGR isn’t about simply promoting our research projects, which we do, but more importantly it is about doing everything we can to promote LGBT research in general. If we conduct research on a topic that has received little attention, then we potentially open up a topic for further research. An exciting thing we are doing this year, along these lines, which I suppose is a shameless plug, is that we are creating an LGBT research scholarship for graduate students.
Tell me about some of your current work: the “Autobiographical Narratives of GLBT Youth,” for instance, or “The Jennifer Project.”
We live in a society where the dominant cultural views found throughout all institutions are of a European, heterosexual, abled, educated and wealthy male. Giving voice to people outside of this cultural norm helps them gain their own sense of power and voice as well as educate others about their experience. … The “Autobiographical Narratives of GLBT Youth” is a project where I have been collecting the life stories of GLBT youth throughout the country. My goal is to compile a book of these stories so that people with varying experiences, both lovely and horrific, will be next to each other in the same book. This would be empowering for GLBT youth as well as hopefully transformative for people who have formed discriminatory views about them. From collecting these stories, I came across a phenomenal individual who I have named Jennifer, who self-identifies as bisexual multigender. Her story became a project of its own and is presented in written and audio form on our Web site.
You’ve said you now love research. What is it you love about it?
Research, for me, isn’t about sitting hunched over a computer looking at complex statistics and saying, “Interesting.” It is about sitting in a living room, drinking coffee and chatting with a couple about their life experiences. After many chats with couples, you come to uncover commonalities between couples who do not know each other, live in different states and are otherwise very different. This becomes the beating and thumping heart of your research and the part that I love. In one of my studies, I sat and talked with a closeted lesbian couple who were in their 80s. They had been together for 50 years, and here I was getting a glimpse into their life. What life experience! What wisdom!
How can the kind of research you’re doing help people who are struggling to understand or come to terms with their orientation or gender?
First, by virtue of conducting and sharing research to the community at large, we inform and educate. … Second, through research, we give others the space to tell their stories and potentially answer another’s questions. … If nothing else, they might gain a sense that they aren’t alone. … We cannot construct someone’s identity, but we can show them ways others have created a positive LGBT identity despite the battery of heterosexist views we come across.
Has anything in your research surprised you?
I suppose the only thing that initially surprised me was the authentic and honest stories I hear from otherwise complete strangers. … I have been talking to retired gay and lesbian couples in their home and over the phone. I interviewed about 25 couples, and in the vast majority of these meetings, the three of us cried at some point. I don’t mean a few tears; I mean full-out crying with a box of tissue being passed around. Their stories were that real and that intense, and I was included. That was such an amazing experience for me and is something I relived when transcribing the recorded interviews.