Michelle M. Johns is a senior research scientist in the Academic Research Centers at NORC at the University of Chicago. Johns has over 15 years’ experience serving as a researcher, educator, and champion of LGBTQ+ health equity. Johns’ career has unfolded across multiple institutional settings and sectors, including the federal government, universities, and non-profit organizations.
Johns’ research focuses on how stigma and resilience shape the health status of LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. Her research employs qualitative and quantitative approaches to address questions about LGBTQ+ identities and experiences of minority stress, coping, violence victimization, mental health, and sexual health over the life course. She is particularly invested in work that centers the experiences of sexual minority women and transgender/gender expansive people. She has published over 45 peer-reviewed journal articles and contributed to over 65 scientific presentations on LGBTQ+ health issues.
Prior to joining NORC at the University of Chicago, Johns served as the lead subject matter expert on LGBTQ+ adolescents for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (CDC DASH). In that role, she spearheaded the dissemination of essential sexual orientation and gender identity surveillance data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), including serving as lead author for the first Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report using YRBS data to highlight health disparities experienced by transgender adolescents in the U.S. She also provided technical direction for applied research developing and evaluating tools to improve the safety and inclusivity of school environments for LGBTQ+ adolescents, as well as for the creation of developmentally appropriate measures of sexual orientation and gender identity for NIH’s Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study.
Johns also has significant experience with community-engaged research. As the principal investigator of the Resilience and Transgender Youth Study, a formative qualitative study of protective factors among transgender youth from CDC DASH, she coordinated with federal contractors to develop relationships with local, youth-serving organizations to recruit and enroll participants. Johns’ early career began in the research arm of Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, IL, a community-health clinic serving LGBTQ+ patients. There she worked on the ground recruiting LGBTQ+ participants at community events, training patient navigators to aid LGBTQ+ patients in receiving affirming care, and conducting medical and psychosocial interviews for the Multi-center AIDS Cohort Study, one of the longest running cohort studies of HIV among gay and bisexual men.
Outside her research, Johns has served in numerous working groups and service roles to advance conversations around LGBTQ+ health equity, including CDC's Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Workgroup, the Healthy People 2030 LGBT Health Workgroup, and the executive board for CDC GLOBE (CDC/ATSDR's employee organization for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies). In her time with CDC GLOBE, Dr. Johns contributed to the development, facilitation, and evaluation of the CDC/ATSDR Ally Training—a day-long, small-group, interactive course led by skilled trainers to educate federal staff on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people and improve their skills for challenging discriminatory and unfair treatment of LGBTQ+ colleagues in the workplace. While at University of Michigan, Johns also volunteered as an HIV Test Counselor and Sexual Health Peer Educator for the University Health System.
Johns received multiple awards for her time at the CDC, including the 2021 Excellence in Leadership Award (GS 11-13) from the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB. As a graduate student, she was a 2014 Community of Scholars Fellow at the Institute of Research on Women and Gender (IRWG) at the University of Michigan, and a 2013 Fellow at the Summer Institute in LGBT Population Health at Fenway Institute in Boston, MA.