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Addressing health inequities of gender and sexuality diverse youth

14 December 2022
Student spotlight: Leslie Peters
Leslie Peters shares their journey to starting a PhD at the Matilda Centre looking at mental health and substance use in gender and sexuality diverse (LGBTQ+) young people.
Professional photo of Leslie Peters

Leslie Peters, PhD student

What is your background and how did you come to join the University?

I returned to the University of Sydney (my alma mater) by way of the George Institute of Global Health as a Research Associate within the Injury Division and World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Injury Prevention and Trauma Care under Professor Julie Brown. There, I gained vast exposure to diverse quantitative, qualitative, and evidence synthesis research methods in injury prevention, road traffic injury, and drowning.

Through these good times I realised my passion for addressing health inequities through targeted prevention among underserved youth cohorts, especially gender and sexuality diverse (LGBTQ+) youth. I had heard of the Matilda Centre and its expertise in mental ill-health, substance use, and school-based prevention, so in late 2021 I got in contact with Associate Professor Emma Barrett and Professor Nicola Newton (who invited the fabulous Dr Yael Perry from Telethon Kids Institute to join the party too) and after a successful 2021 Matilda Centre PhD Scholarship application I enrolled at the start of 2022.

Can you tell us about your research?

My PhD uses large-scale epidemiological analyses, qualitative methods, and intervention research methods to better understand disparities in mental ill-health and (co-occurring) substance use among gender and sexuality diverse (LGBTQ+) young people with the view to co-producing, adapting, and evaluating new and existing school-based interventions addressing these disparities. This work is being guided and advised by a LGBTQ+ Youth Advisory Committee of eight brilliant experts from across NSW, passionate about the health and rights of rainbow youth.

Leslie with researchers at a conference

Chloe Conroy, Leslie Peters, Dr Erin Kelly and Associate Emma Barrett at the Trauma Aware Schooling Conference 2022, Queensland

What have been some of your best experiences as an HDR student?

Presenting at the Trauma Aware Schooling Conference 2022 in Brisbane, Queensland with my amazing primary PhD supervisor, Asscociate Professor Emma Barrett, was a very memorable weekend. The Conference comprised highly passionate teachers advocating for whole-of-school trauma-aware approaches and privileged the voices of advocates and practitioners with lived experience.

Leslie with his supervisors

Leslie Peters, Dr Yael Perry and Professor Nicola Newton

The Conference provided insight into school-level policy levers for school-based mental health prevention and, moreover, gave me a bigger picture perspective about what trauma-informed prevention looks like and for whom.

Another amazing time was when with Professor Nicola Newton, I got to meet Dr Yael Perry in person in Sydney for the first time!

What are some of your all-time favourite quotes?

I don’t get cute I get drop dead gorgeous.
I may not be funny, and I might not be a singer, or a damn seamstress, but I am a fierce queen.

Leslie's PhD is supervised by
  • Associate Professor Emma Barrett, NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow, Program Lead of Trauma and Crime Research, and Psychologist, the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney
  • Professor Nicola Newton, Professor and Director of Prevention, the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney
  • Dr Yael Perry, Co-Head of Youth Mental Health and Senior Research Fellow, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia

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