By Lorraine Longhi, September 2015 Issue.

In the major urban sprawl of the Phoenix-metropolitan area, it can difficult for niche researchers, professionals and academics to meet and find other individuals to collaborate with on new ideas and research.

For individuals interested in queer research in particular, one Phoenix-based group is seeking to unite likeminded people and give them a forum for discussion and innovation.

Housed in Arizona State University’s School of Social work, InQUEERy is an interdisciplinary collaborative that aims to enhance the field of study related to sexual orientation, gender identity and self expression.

Now roughly two years old, the group was founded with a mission to build a community of scholars that are invested in queer research, and enhance knowledge about available resources for individuals interested in queer studies.

For Vern Harner, a co-chair and founding member of the group, their work as a second year master’s student in the field of social work sparked an idea to create a space where individuals could focus on queer issues within the frame of social work.

“We realized there were a lot of us doing this LGBT and queer-focused research,” Harner said. “But it would take us a while to find each other and discuss what others were doing because we were so siloed.”

Natasha Mendoza (left) and Vern Harner.
Photo courtesy of

Harner founded the group with Natasha Mendoza, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Social Work.

Mendoza teaches classes on LGBT issues, with an emphasis on evidence-based treatment of substance abuse disorders.

In its beginning stages, InQUEERy mainly networked and discussed their individual research, but the group has now expanded to include presentations on research methodology, social work practice and various LGBT issues at its monthly meetings.

At the group’s September meeting, for example, discussion centered on how to competently collect LGBTQ demographics on surveys and application forms.

“Typically, surveys just have sexual orientations listed as gay, straight or bisexual, which is no longer an accurate representation of our community,” Harner said. “We’re going to talk about how we can develop these criteria to more accurately reflect the population.”

Mendoza echoed Harner’s point and underscored the importance of relaying this information to the rest of the community.

“These are great opportunities for people to learn how to collect data while honoring gender and sexual minority status,” Mendoza said. “It’s more complicated than what many people who consider themselves allies might understand.”

Other projects being worked on by the collective include an autoethnographic research project that highlights what it means to be queer and work in the queer community, as well as discussions on boundary issues when members of the LGBTQ community are also involved with social work.

“The queer community in Phoenix is still very small, so we do run into things like boundary issues, especially where that intersects with social work,” Harner said. “For example, if I’m a therapist and you’re a client and I stop seeing you, it’s not ethical for me to then start a relationship with you. In social work, we say ‘Once a client, always a client.’”

These boundary issues can create several difficult to navigate situations to confront within the framework of social work and a member of the queer community, situations that Harner believes can be dealt with head-on through discussion and open dialogue.

While not an official university organization, the group’s affiliation with ASU’s School of Social work gives it a foothold to invite students, faculty and members of the surrounding community to come out and discuss research and issues relevant to the queer community.

The group’s next meeting will include a presentation by Lisa Daughters, a licensed private counselor, on the power of expressive arts therapies.

Daughters is a counselor for Integrated Mental Health Associates, a private Arizona practice that competently serves LGBT individuals, particularly transgender adolescents.

The group also hopes to see more attendance by members of the community in future meetings, as well as attendance by faculty and student researchers, in order to bring a well-rounded and diverse group of opinions to discussions.

“It’s a very different experience having someone with an academic knowledge of queer theory and having people who are members of the community,” Harner said. “It’s just a great opportunity to for researchers and community members to come together and have a dialogue and a discussion about what we can learn from each other.”

InQUEERy’s next meeting will take place Oct. 22. For more information and updates, join InQUEERy’s Facebook group at

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