Professor Katherine Johnson’s research interest in gender and sexuality began in Sydney in the early 1990s. She was on a gap-year, that stretched into two and then three. Living and working in Kings Cross, an area notorious for strip clubs, brothels and organised crime, introduced her to the sharp social and health inequalities faced by trans people alongside a vibrant queer community that celebrated sexual diversity, friendship and support. She changed her original degree choice from Politics and Economics to Psychology and returned to London in 1994 armed with a commitment to better understand Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans lives (including her own) and to work in an area related to improving health and mental health.
Undergraduate days studying experimental psychology passed slowly but her PhD scholarship allowed her to research experiences of gender transition and to challenge many of the divisive assumptions about trans people that still circulate today. It was, however, her postdoctoral appointment as a Research Fellow on the first national study of LGB mental health, funded by Mind, and led by Professor Michael King, that finally illustrated how research could really make a difference to people’s everyday lives. The study demonstrated elevated rates of psychological distress for LGB people and linked suicidal distress to experiences of discrimination. Its findings were widely publicised in the media and led to a gradual shift in funding priorities to tackle LGBT health and mental inequalities that continues today.