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Michelle Johns

Pronouns: She/Her

Senior Research Scientist
Michelle has over 15 years of experience serving as a researcher, educator, and champion of LGBTQ+ health equity.

Michelle is a senior research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago. Her career has unfolded across multiple institutional settings and sectors, including the federal government, universities, and non-profit organizations.

Michelle’s 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, Michelle 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.

Michelle 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. Michelle’s early career began in the research arm of Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, 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, Michelle 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, Michelle 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, Michelle also volunteered as an HIV Test Counselor and Sexual Health Peer Educator for the University Health System.

Michelle 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.



University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Graduate Certificate

University of Michigan , Ann Arbor


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


Whitman College

Project Contributions

How Right Now / Qué Hacer Ahora

A communication initiative to increase people’s resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Foundation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Network-Driven COVID-19 Prevention for Vulnerable Populations (RADx-UP)

Randomized control trials to evaluate network-based approaches to promote COVID-19 prevention


National Institute of Drug Abuse

Evaluation Training and Technical Assistance Center (ETAC)

Evaluation training, TA, and rigorous evaluations for DoD sexual assault prevention activities


Department of Defense (DoD)

AstraZeneca Foundation Evaluation & Technical Assistance

Supporting the AstraZeneca Foundation’s new health equity program


AstraZeneca Foundation

Hate Incident Reporting Initiative to Strengthen Engagement in LGBTQ+ Communities (HIRISE+)

A research-to-translation project assessing decisions to report hate crimes from LGBTQ+ adults and law enforcement


National Institute of Justice