Hui Liu: Understanding and improving LGBTQ+ health

June 7, 2019

Hui Liu is a professor in the Department of Sociology.

For many LGBTQ+ Americans, access to healthcare can be negatively impacted by their sexual minority or gender diverse identity. But can healthy marriages and relationships negate this health disparity?

This is among the questions that Hui Liu, professor of Sociology in the College of Social Science at Michigan State University, is looking to answer. By understanding the connection between health, relationships and the LGBTQ+ community, she is hoping to lessen the social stigma that acts as a barrier between LGBTQ+ Americans and proper physical and mental health care.

Starting with a comparison

Liu began studying the LGBTQ+ community with a 2013 study that looked at health disparities between same-sex cohabitors, different-sex cohabitors and different-sex spouses. She found that, while same-sex cohabitors reported worse health than different-sex spouses, their health status were better than that of different-sex cohabitors. This indicated that the disparity was rooted in the marital status of the couples rather than the sex of the individuals in the relationship.

Liu’s research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, also examined the health of children raised by same-sex cohabiting and married parents versus different-sex cohabiting and married parents. Findings showed that children in same-sex and different sex married households were relatively similar to each other on health outcomes, as were children in same-sex and different-sex cohabiting households.

Doing LGBTQ+ research differently

What sets Liu’s research apart isn’t just her passion for better understanding the LGBTQ+ community and improving their experiences – it’s the sheer scope of her research. “There is actually a lot of LGBTQ+ research done on a much smaller, individual scale, but my research uses nationally representative population-based public datasets,” said Liu.

A larger data set means that Liu’s findings are much broader and representative when talking in terms of the LGBTQ+ community. Liu is also committed to studying the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, with her current studies focusing on bisexual and transgender relationships and health outcomes.

“Most of the current sexual and gender minority research centers around gay and lesbian people,” Liu explained. “But there are also other sexual and gender minorities such as bisexual and transgender people who face even more disadvantages in our society. That’s also the population I’m interested in – I want to see how their health compares to others.”

Liu is hoping her research will help improve understanding and lessen negative stigma against the LGBTQ+ population. “The more knowledge we have, the more we can understand the experiences sexual and gender minorities have, the struggles they have, the disadvantages they have – it helps to reduce the stigma and eliminate barriers to healthcare. I also think it helps the sexual and gender minority population to understand themselves and how their relationships work,” said Liu.