This summer I conducted research in the LGBTKH+ community in and around Kolkata, India, through an internship with Kolkata Anandam for Equality and Justice (KAEJ). Here, LGBTKH+ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, kothi and hijra (regional terms), plus any and all other gender and sexual minorities. KAEJ is an anti-violence organization based out of red light districts in and around Kolkata. The organization is run and headed by members of the community that it works with. Many of the organization’s members are sex workers or children of sex workers, which puts the community at the intersection of economic, gender/sexuality, and professional marginalization.
I was responsible for a Community Needs Assessment, meaning that I was expected to gather interviews, analyze them, and use them to summarize the needs of the community. To do this, I co-constructed a research plan and questionnaire of open-ended questions with community leaders, which I then used to conduct 44 key informant interviews. The questions asked about education, income and profession, family relationships, violence and discrimination, available support, and the role of community support in marginalization. After interview analysis, I put together a report on community needs and returned data to the organization. The information collected and detailed report can now be used to suggest interventions or apply for project grants.
As a Health & Societies major, I learn about the theory behind social determinants of health and community-led interventions. The research I did this summer allowed me to acquire and refine my skills in qualitative interviewing and data analysis. I worked with the guidance of local activists and mentors, and was able to better understand the role that stakeholders play in community affairs. The research I did with KAEJ allowed me to step outside of the narrow view of “health,” and look at a wide range of factors that affect community needs and functioning. I can move forward in my academic career with a clearer understanding of how to collect and present research findings in a way that is conscious of data and the community that it comes from and affects.