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Reducing Health Disparities and Enhancing the Responsible Conduct of Research Involving LGBT Youth Research with LGBT youth is vital, yet barriers make it especially hard.
Although there is clearly a need for evidenced-based behavioral or biomedical prevention or treatment programs for suicide, substance abuse, and sexual health targeted to members of the LGBT population under the age of eighteen, few such programs exist, due in substantial part to limited research knowledge. Ambiguities in regulations that govern human subjects protections and the related inconsistencies in institutional review board (IRB) interpretations of regulatory language are the key reason for the lack of rigorous clinical trial evidence to support treatment choices and prevention approaches to reducing health disparities for this population. Given the socially sensitive nature of suicide, substance abuse, and HIV and STI research in general and LGBT research specifically, in the absence of empirical data to guide their decisions, IRBs must often rely on subjective judgments of minimal risk, which can lead to overestimation of the magnitude and probability of psychological, social, and informational harms that might arise from LGBT youth participation in clinical trials. In addition, more than other youth, LGBT adolescents whose families are unaware of their sexual orientation or gender identity or whose families have victimized them on account of it may be reluctant to participate in studies that require guardian permission. This, in turn, intensifies problems of recruitment and unbiased sampling. However, many IRBs are reluctant to apply federal regulations permitting waiver of guardian permission under conditions in which such permission is clearly not “feasible” or “reasonable” to require. Consequently, many investigators have excluded LGBT individuals under eighteen years of age in health intervention research proposals because of anticipated or actual difficulties obtaining IRB approval. This situation is in conflict with current ethical discourse focusing on the right of youths to participate in trials that will protect them from receiving developmentally untested, inappropriate, and unsafe treatments. In this article, we describe these barriers and recommendations for providing LGBT youth safe and fair access to health research.
Although there is clearly a need for evidenced-based behavioral or biomedical prevention or treatment programs for suicide, substance abuse, and sexual health targeted to members of the LGBT population under the age of eighteen, few such programs exist, due in substantial part to limited research knowledge. Ambiguities in regulations that govern human subjects protections and the related inconsistencies in institutional review board (IRB) interpretations of regulatory language are the key reason for the lack of rigorous clinical trial evidence to support treatment choices and prevention approaches to reducing health disparities for this population. Given the socially sensitive nature of suicide, substance abuse, and HIV and STI research in general and LGBT research specifically, in the absence of empirical data to guide their decisions, IRBs must often rely on subjective judgments of minimal risk, which can lead to overestimation of the magnitude and probability of psychological, social, and informational harms that might arise from LGBT youth participation in clinical trials. In addition, more than other youth, LGBT adolescents whose families are unaware of their sexual orientation or gender identity or whose families have victimized them on account of it may be reluctant to participate in studies that require guardian permission. This, in turn, intensifies problems of recruitment and unbiased sampling. However, many IRBs are reluctant to apply federal regulations permitting waiver of guardian permission under conditions in which such permission is clearly not “feasible” or “reasonable” to require. Consequently, many investigators have excluded LGBT individuals under eighteen years of age in health intervention research proposals because of anticipated or actual difficulties obtaining IRB approval. This situation is in conflict with current ethical discourse focusing on the right of youths to participate in trials that will protect them from receiving developmentally untested, inappropriate, and unsafe treatments. In this article, we describe these barriers and recommendations for providing LGBT youth safe and fair access to health research.

 Celia B. Fisher and Brian Mustanski. Reducing Health Disparities and Enhancing the Responsible Conduct of Research Involving LGBT Youth. Hastings Center Report 44, no. 5 (2014): S28-S31. 

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