“I had no idea what I’d do with it,” thought Theo Burnes, PhD, MS Ed, when he was studying for his BA in Psychology. However after doing some meaningful volunteer work his last year of school Burnes, core faculty in the graduate Psychology program, knew he had to become a therapist.
This volunteer work led to Burnes’ eventual study as a master’s student and a later a doctoral student in psychology. While volunteering as an intern therapist at community mental agencies near his school, Burnes worked in a clinical setting with diverse LGBTQ clients dealing with many social justice challenges. When he began to look for literature for his clients to read, he found a vacuum. This led to his award winning, two-year project interviewing sex workers in Mexico and the United States. He found that his clients “had no rights, no access, and no space for their voices to be heard.”
In the early stages of his work, he knew that his project team would be best if it was comprised of the very people he was getting to know. Burnes trained a team of four sex workers to become interviewers and research assistants. As stakeholders in the project’s outcome, his team took to the streets to put up flyers, identify others for interviews, and enlist them in the project.
In April of 2014, the manuscript from Burnes’ study was submitted for publication. Unbeknownst to him, it made its way to the American Psychological Association (APA). He was quite gratified when he learned that his colleagues had nominated him for the 2014 APA, Division 17 Section, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues Award for Significant Contribution to Social Justice and Advocacy.
Burnes received this award at the APA’s annual conference August 7, 2014 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. and his project was displayed in the Poster Session in the convention’s exhibit hall.