A sexuality center at San Francisco State University aims to play a greater role in the public policy arena following a recent merger.
The Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality wants to have a larger voice in debates on such hot button topics as sex education, HIV prevention, transgender rights, and the teaching of LGBT history in schools.
"I think there is a real fear in addressing issues in sexuality and sexual health, but information will not make the problem worse. Talking about these issues and examining them actually helps," said Colleen Hoff, Ph.D., director of CREGS. "These issues impact everyone, and right now there is a real disconnect between what is a healthy part of life and what is taboo and scares us."
The increased presence in the public square comes after a merger between SFSU's former Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality, which Hoff directed, and the National Sexuality Resource Center was finalized in February. CREGS is housed at the public university's downtown campus above the Bloomingdale's shopping center on Market Street.
The restructuring started more than a year ago when Gilbert Herdt stepped down as director of the national center, which he founded and had a strong advocacy component to its work. Hoff stepped in to oversee the combined research unit and is refocusing its attention to include the policy component.
"We feel our research work could be more impactful on policy," Hoff told the Bay Area Reporter at the official launch of the new center Friday, April 13. She added that CREGS staff is looking to engage in policy discussions "locally, statewide, and nationally."
The center wants to ensure that the academic research conducted by SF State faculty is applied to real-world settings. One example is the fight over abstinence-only sex education in public schools.
CREGS researcher Jessica Fields is an expert on how to educate youth about sexuality, noted Hoff, and could be called on more to speak about the need for a comprehensive approach to teaching sex-ed classes.
Hoff is an expert on the dynamics within gay male couples, and her research findings could help shape how health officials devise tools to prevent HIV and other STDs among such couples. She has also been studying gay fathers of adopted children with disabilities and is seeking funds to develop supportive services for such families.
"We found there isn't a lot of support for them in the gay community or the disabilities community" said Hoff, who also wants to broaden her research focus to include lesbian families rearing children with special needs. "This is an emerging area where very little research has been done."
One new initiative CREGS has launched is aimed at increasing diversity in the field of sexuality itself. As American society becomes more ethnic and multiracial, there are "a troubling lack of racial and ethnic minorities in the fields of sexuality and sexual health," noted Hoff.
"We are seeking funding for that right now," she added.
CREGS staff has also been working with local school district officials on developing LGBT history curriculum to meet the requirements of a new state law that recently went into effect.
"I remember the battle over female studies and gender studies. What a radical notion," said gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who authored the LGBT curriculum bill and attended CREGS' launch ceremony. "The work you are doing is cutting edge and all of it is without much precedent."
The center's work not only informs the community but also policymakers, added Leno.
"It helps us craft policy that will positively impact young lives," he said.
To learn more about CREGS or to volunteer for one of its research studies, visit http://cregs.sfsu.edu/.