Scholar of the Month

Meet Richard Brandon-Friedman

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Richard A. Brandon-Friedman (He/Him/His) is an Assistant Professor within the Indiana University School of Social Work and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics within the Indiana University School of Medicine. He is also the recipient of the 2022 Bantz Community Scholar Award. Dr. Brandon-Friedman's current clinical work and research focus on the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth, with a specific focus on gender-diverse youth. His past social work practice experience with youth in the child welfare system and with sexual and/or gender minority youth guides his inquiry into how psychosocial experiences such as trauma, sexual education, sexual messaging, and societal messaging impact youths’ sexual and gender identity development. Through his work, Dr. Brandon-Friedman aims to help service providers understand how to best assist youth in developing a positive sense of their gender identity, sexual identity, and sexual selfhood.

Dr. Brandon-Friedman has received several grants to evaluate the impact of gender-affirming care on the well-being of gender-diverse youth and to enhance service provision to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse People of Color. In 2016, he helped to establish the Gender Health Program at Riley Hospital for Children and continues to conduct research within the program. In addition to his continuing clinical work, Dr. Brandon-Friedman serves as Chair of the Indiana Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Previously he served as a Councilor for the Council on Social Work Education's (CSWE) Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression for six years.

In his professional capacities, Dr. Brandon-Friedman teaches classes with the Indiana University School of Social Work, mentors students, maintains a small private clinical practice focused on LGBTQ+ youth and their families, and serves as an advocate for various communities. These experiences keep him grounded within the community and provids him with opportunities to contribute to others’ growth. Outside of his professional roles, he does a lot of work restoring historical homes, traveling, and looking for those magical items you never realized you needed until you found them in a thrift store or at an auction.

I feel that a core piece of translational research is using our skills and social capacities to help those who are being disempowered identify their needs and develop the means to reach their full potential.

Dr. Richard Brandon-Friedman

Q and A with Dr. Richard Brandon-Friedman

What has interested me the most throughout my career has been how individuals come to understand themselves, especially when they are being bombarded with messages that say that who they are is wrong. This started with seeing peers struggle with their sexuality while at a religiously-affiliated university and has progressed to looking at how gender-diverse youth navigate finding themselves while some peers, adults, and legislators spend time not only trying to limit their rights, but also demonizing their community. Even when in harmful environments, many LGBTQ+ youth not only survive, but thrive. I want to better understand how they can be successful so that we can help those who struggle more.

My goal is to help marginalized individuals thrive regardless of their environment. As a researcher, clinician, and faculty member, I have a level of privilege and position of power that many do not. There were many who assisted me on my journey to where I am today, and I want to use my position to further build positive change. I feel that is a core piece of translational research – using our skills and social capacities to help those who are being disempowered identify their needs and develop the means to reach their full potential.

I’d like to think that my research has an impact not only on those who participate, but also with others in similar situations. The curricula that I and my research teams have developed are being used to help gender-diverse individuals build necessary life skills. Our ongoing work documenting the impact of gender-affirming care will provide one of the most comprehensive data sets on this critical aspect of gender-diverse youths’ healthcare to date and will be able to be used to further establish its evidence base. Everyone who participates in research does so within their own microsystem and as a member of a larger community, and we as researchers need to ensure that those larger communities benefit as well. I continually work to disseminate my research through community organizations and within local and national media so others can see its impact and build upon it to further.

It sounds cliché, but my favorite part of my work is seeing its impact on those who participate. Many of our participants express appreciation for being given space to discuss their experiences and how situations have affected them. Being part of a marginalized community can be very isolating and when someone takes the time to sit with you and ask about your life, your needs, and your progress, you can feel an incredible sense of empowerment. This can be both as an individual and as a part of a community. I want to see individual participants grow while also feeling they are helping others, and the kind of intimate translational research I do provides that opportunity. This is the core of what I do and what keeps me doing it.

All my research heavily involves students. I have research assistants from every educational level – bachelors, masters, and doctoral. When students start out, they are trained on the mundane aspects of research and then have the chance to grow to develop their own research questions and figure out how to answer them. I have had students do data entry, develop group sessions, run groups, conduct interviews, conduct analyses, and present research findings to others. I have also guided some students in writing their own grant applications. I want everything I do to serve as a learning environment for those who will be doing the work after me.

I work to heavily involve the community in my research. Every grant I write contains funding to support members of the community we are working with. I am one person with one life experience, and that life experience does not align with many with whom I do my research. Properly conducting research with gender-diverse individuals requires engaging those with that lived experience. I bring as many gender-diverse people as I can onto my research teams and then provide them with the opportunity to guide our inquiries and be the face of the work. This further elevates their community and provides a sense of connection with and safety for participants that I as a researcher could never accomplish on my own.

I have another sixteen or so months left in my research evaluating the impact of gender-affirming care. We are currently developing a project examining how gender-diverse youth transition to adult care. As I wrap up these projects, I am seeking input from my participants and research team members as to what further needs they have. Some sketched out ideas are looking at the intersections of sexuality and gender, how we can enhance gender-diverse individuals’ participation in research, and how we can assist gender-diverse youth who do not have familial support reach their goals.

Conversation with Dr. Richard Brandon-Friedman

On Friday, June 28, 2024. from 12 noon to 1 p.m., Dr. Richard Brandon-Friedman will talk about “Working with the Gender-Diverse Community to Address the Needs of Gender-Diverse Youth.”

Dr. Brandon-Friedman, his doctoral students, and gender-diverse community members will discuss recent research projects designed to better understand and address the needs of gender-diverse youth. These include tracking the impact of gender-affirming care on gender-diverse youths’ well-being over a two-year period, exploring the impact of educational institution betrayal on gender-diverse youths’ education and social well-being, developing a therapeutic group for gender-diverse youth and their caregivers, and assisting with the development of a life skills curriculum for gender-diverse People of Color age 18-24. These projects all have been funded through various community-based mechanisms and all have included the gender-diverse community in their design, implementation, and evaluation. Join this conversation to learn how researchers can engage with the community to learn about and address their needs.