December 19, 2016

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds study of health, economic effects of LGBT-related laws

A trans-institutional team of Vanderbilt social scientists and medical professionals will look at how laws affecting LGBT individuals and families affect their health and the economy.

Christopher “Kitt” Carpenter (Vanderbilt University)

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has granted $400,000 to Vanderbilt University to fund a two-year interdisciplinary analysis of the health impacts of recent laws and public policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as on local economic and business outcomes.

Christopher “Kitt” Carpenter, professor of economics, will lead the trans-institutional research team, which includes co-investigators Tara McKay, assistant professor of medicine, health and society, and Gilbert Gonzales, assistant professor of health policy at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; and consultant Jesse Ehrenfeld, associate professor of anesthesiology and director of the Program in LGBTI Health at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Tara McKay (Vanderbilt University)

“The production, analysis and synthesis of high impact interdisciplinary research regarding LGBT policies and populations is especially important given the large and growing body of evidence that sexual minorities have worse health outcomes and access to health care than similarly situated heterosexuals,” Carpenter said.

Only recently have sufficient medical and sociological data begun to be collected about LGBT individuals and their families to analyze meaningfully, and many knowledge gaps remain about this particular population, Carpenter said. He and his team will analyze these new data in the context of state and local LGBT-related laws to determine whether they contribute to the health and wellbeing disparities observed in sexual minorities. These laws include marriage equality, transgender rights, laws that permit businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals on religious grounds, and employment non-discrimination laws.

Gilbert Gonzales (Vanderbilt University School of Medicine)

Over the next two years, the team will seek to address five questions:

  1. How marriage equality affects health insurance coverage of the children of LGBT parents;
  2. How state-level LGBT policies affect mental health and substance abuse among LGBT populations;
  3. How marriage equality and domestic partner policies affect whether and how private employers provide insurance to same-sex partners;
  4. How state and local LGBT antidiscrimination ordinances affecte economic outcomes like employment and wages; and
  5. How LGBT nondiscrimination policies affect workforce diversity.

“This research supports RWJF’s vision to build a culture of health where everyone has the opportunity to live a healthier life, especially those who face barriers because of where they live, how much money they make or discrimination they face because of who they are,” said Kerry Anne McGeary, senior program officer at RWJF.

Jesse Eherenfeld (Vanderbilt University School of Medicine)

Carpenter’s research focuses on the impact of public policy on health. He has published extensively on the effects of policies like cigarette taxes and drunk driving laws, as well as on a variety of health and economic issues as they relate to LGBT populations.

McKay, a sociologist by training, examines cultural, social and political factors that affect health in vulnerable populations in the U.S. and Africa, particularly sexual minorities. Gonzalez, a public health and health policy expert, studies health insurance and access to care issues, with a focus on LGBT individuals and families. In addition to directing the Program in LGBTI Health at the School of Medicine, Ehrenfeld, who will serve as the medical consultant to the project, has a background in public health and is a longtime advocate for LGBT medical trainees, employees and practitioners.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. RWJF is working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at