Letter to the Editor: Georgia State, let trans/non-binary people guide your research

Georgia State has a lot to be proud of. As an aspiring top 10 research institution, Georgia State emphasizes interdisciplinary and impactful research and has been awarded over $150 million in research funding in the fiscal year 2020. We are one of the fastest-growing research institutions, and one goal of our strategic plan is to “Become a leading public research university addressing the most challenging issues of the 21st century.” 

Georgia State has one of the most diverse student populations of any university in the country, indicating great opportunities for leading in higher education around issues of equity and inclusion. Yet, with great accomplishment comes great responsibility. 

As part of carrying out its research and policy analysis, Georgia State has an ethical obligation to ensure scholars are not unduly harming marginalized populations. For example, it is important for researchers and policy experts to purposefully involve and seek feedback from impacted communities in guiding research and minimizing harm. 

This includes the many diverse communities living in the Atlanta region, such as transgender (trans) people; Black and Indigenous communities and People of Color; immigrants; people living in poverty; and people with disabilities.

Policy suggestions and research implications articulated by Georgia State researchers should uphold the highest standards of scientific knowledge while also reflecting the lived experiences and needs of populations impacted by the issue being studied. 

For research and policy work related to trans people, there is a need for critically and creatively approaching our understanding of gender and sex rather than relying on binary thinking and biological essentialism. 

For example, using anecdotes of sexual predators in women’s prisons to make a broad generalization about the need to exclude trans women from women’s spaces maintains a discourse of trans violence rather than critiquing the systems and cultural norms that allow sexually predatory behaviors to occur in the first place. 

These arguments have often misrepresented trans women as deceptive “males dressed like women” and have reinforced a stereotype of the predatory Black man from whom (White) women must be protected. Furthermore, these strawman arguments teach fear and exclusion as a response to trans people.

By using a critical, community-based lens to inquiry with marginalized populations, researchers can build transformative partnerships with local communities. Such work calls for implementing methodologies that position research participants as experts on their own lives. 

It requires being self-reflexive about one’s positionality as a researcher. Cisgender (non-transgender) policy experts are easily tempted to use their positionality and power to make claims about how legislation impacts trans people without actually involving or collaborating with trans communities. 

To reduce the risk of further harm, cisgender researchers and policy analysts need to remain vigilant in their resistance to historical patterns of abuses of power under the auspice of “expertise.”

Georgia State has great potential as a diverse, forward-thinking institution. To reach this potential, we must be willing to build and support community-based, collaborative relationships. 

Georgia State has a history of struggling with the balance between promoting its development and ensuring the well-being of the local community, as evidenced by the lack of community input in the development of Turner Field (see page 8). Yet, there is great potential for Georgia State researchers to build the type of sustained, collaborative, and community-driven work that is needed to produce research that matches the needs of marginalized populations within Atlanta. 

Some suggested action steps include:

  • Creating scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students who are conducting research or engaging in creative endeavors that address critical issues affecting trans people, that affirm trans communities, and that support trans people in developing to their full potential.
  • Developing doctoral fellowships focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that support students who would contribute to the diversification of the professoriate and who are studying topics that advance GSU’s commitment to DEI.
  • Involving trans people as community representatives on the GSU IRB to help review research studies related to trans populations (with adequate compensation).
  • Including trans students, staff, and faculty in the decision-making process of GSU policies that will impact them, including gender restroom designations and use of surveillance technologies.
  • Creating an internal funding stream for faculty research that advances the public good, with an emphasis on research that involves collaboration with marginalized populations to solve critical social problems (including the use of methods such as community-based participatory research and participatory action research).

We hope that Georgia State can take such important steps as part of its broader goals as a diverse, innovative research university committed to tackling important issues of the 21st century.


Mx. Jordan Forrest Miller

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Sociology

Dr. Kristie Seelman

Associate Professor, School of Social Work

Dr. Desmond F. Goss

Lecturer & Director of Social Justice Certificate Program, Department of Sociology

Dr. Elizabeth Beck

Professor, School of Social Work

Mx. Daren Fowler

Ph.D. Candidate, The School of Film, Media & Theatre

Ms. Bethany Stevens, J.D.

Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology

Dr. Tiffany King

Associate Professor, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Dr. Natsu Taylor Saito

Distinguished University Professor, College of Law

Dr. Alex Sayf Cummings

Associate Professor/Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History

Michelle Sauve

Master’s Degree Student, School of Social Work

Mx. Jordan Keesler

Master’s Degree Student, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies