SHINE Strong Fosters the Next Generation of Trans and Queer Researchers

May 30, 2024
Headshots of Leo Gorgatti and Mayor Manlapid
Leo Gorgatti (Mentored Research Project: An intersectional analysis of the lived experiences of Latina trans women) and Mayor Manlapid (Mentored Research Project: Identity congruence and mental health outcomes among trans women: the significance of self-reflection and self-expression as protective factors)

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded SHINE Strong program is the first training and mentoring program committed to long-term development of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) behavioral scientists with expertise in trans population health. The program, co-founded by UCGHI Center for Gender and Health Justice Associate Director, Sean Arayasirikul, PhD (they/them), engages undergraduate students in HIV prevention and trans and nonbinary scholarship.

UC Santa Cruz senior, Mayor Manlapid (they/them), who is nonbinary, had spent their college career focusing on studying mental health. Yet it wasn’t until their supervisor from their work as a mental health peer educator sent them an application to SHINE Strong that they knew focusing on trans mental health scholarship would be an option for them. “I knew that I wanted to research mental health, but I didn't really know how to go about it or what avenues I would have gone through and specifically that I could focus on the trans community,” they noted. However, getting accepted as a SHINE Strong Scholar and spending the last year conducting their own mentored research project, Manlapid now has a career trajectory that is entirely focused on trans and queer health.

Each SHINE Strong Scholar participates in didactic training activities (e.g. seminars, panels, readings, etc.), individual and group mentorship and an ongoing “soul care” program designed to give space to process and care for their own mental health in their work in addition to conducting their own mentored research. Manlapid was especially interested in looking at more positive aspects of the trans experience. They mention that research often looks at bleak facts about life as a trans person such as health disparities and violence towards the trans community. While acknowledging that research is important, Manlapid wanted to contribute in a different way. “I was looking to focus on protective factors against negative mental health outcomes because I want to be able to focus on what we can do to help the trans community,” they say. Specifically, they are focusing on transgender congruence–which is the degree to which a transgender person feels comfortable with their gender identity and appearance compared to what they feel internally about their gender identity. “I found that transgender congruence serves as a protective factor against suicide risk in trans woman, specifically in our sample of trans women in San Francisco,” they say.

Another SHINE Strong Scholar, Leo Gorgatti (she/her), who is a trans woman, recently graduated from UC Berkeley and as a result of her SHINE Strong research branched out from her degree in molecular and cell biology. “I was just looking for queer-centered healthcare experience or public health experience,” she says. “I wanted to start to familiarize myself with the research or the healthcare around caring for queer people. I'm investigating the health outcomes of trans immigrant Latinas, specifically, in the realm of ‘the Latino health paradox’ and how on average, it has shown with predominantly cisgender populations that Latino families tend to have a greater support network and a system of community that usually stems from extended family that has shown to improve their health.” This phenomenon is called familismo in Latine culture. Gorgatti wanted to assess how familismo and health outcomes differ with a queer or trans family member. “So far my findings have shown that they do actually still experience the positive effects of familismo,” she says. “On the scale of perceived social support, we focused on the family subscale, and it showed that foreign-born Latine trans women scored significantly higher than the general population of U.S. born trans women.” Even though Gorgatti has graduated, she is still involved with the ongoing research that she would like to see applied to other communities outside of San Francisco.

In addition to Manlapid and Gorgatti, there were three other SHINE Strong Scholars for the 2023-2024 school year and the community and mentorship built by Program Director, Dr. Arayasirikul, who is also an Associate Professor In-Residence at UC Irvine Program in Public Health in the Department of Health, Society, and Behavior. Manlapid and Gorgatti note that Dr. Arayasirikul created an environment that encouraged them to see each other as lifelong colleagues in transgender health and research.

“It’s really daunting as a trans person to enter higher education when there aren’t as many trans people, especially in research. And the fact that Sean is non-binary like me was important,” says Manlapid of Dr. Arayasirikul. “It was really important for me to see a trans person who is passionate about this work, who has made it and has been able to make a career out of this and is incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic and passionate about this work.”

Both Manlapid and Gorgatti are pursuing a Masters in Public Health thanks to their experience as a SHINE Strong Scholar. Manlapid will be attending Brown University where there is a large focus on transgender health and research and Gorgatti will be going back to her home state to attend Florida International University.

“The experience affirmed the fact I want to go into a queer–specific field and that I want to go into trans healthcare,” says Gorgatti. “This program is unlike any other research program I've ever seen,” says Manlapid. “It really does look after us, making sure that we are growing from this and invested in making sure that we are growing as academics and that we become successful in the field.” For both scholars, SHINE Strong showed them they have a place in the world of trans research.