Project AFFIRM



Project AFFIRM is a study of vulnerability, risk, and resilience in the context of transgender identity development.

Project AFFIRM - NYC is part of the Program for the Study of LGBT Health in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, & Health, NYS Psychiatric Institute / Columbia University Department of Psychiatry with the Columbia University School of Nursing.

Our office is located in Washington Heights at 722 West 168th Street, on floor R3.  

If you have questions, you can email us at or call us at (646) 774-6962.




Special Projects



  • AFFIRM Relationships explores the development of relationship between transgender and gender non conforming people and their primary partners; the challenges they experienced in terms of stigma, risk behaviors, sexual negotiation; and the opportunities they have in terms of relationship functioning and satisfaction. AFFIRM Relationship is supported by the New York Community Trust.
  • An important goal of Project AFFIRM is to understand the challenges transgender and gender nonconforming people face and the ways they develop resilience. AFFIRM Resilience examines the role of self-harm in the lives of trans and gender nonconforming people with the goal of informing future interventions.
  • AFFIRM Health takes a look at what constitutes a positive working relationship with a health care provider, and how such relationship impact access to medical care, HIV care and preventive services. AFFIRM Health is supported by the MAC AIDS Fund.

To learn more about these projects email us at or call us at (646) 774-6962


Meet our staff


Advisory Board


Sean Coleman

Sean is the Founder and Executive Director of Destination Tomorrow, a grassroots agency in the South Bronx that provides services for LGBT youth 13-25. He has been an advocate and service provider for the last 15 years working with homeless youth and within the House & Ballroom community designing programs for HIV prevention. He currently sits on the community advisory board for the LGBT Health Initiative in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at Columbia University and the National House & Ballroom Coalition. Sean has been included on the 2014 Trans 100 list, is a 2014 fellow with the We Are the Bronx Fellowship, sits on the NYC Council speakers’ LBGT taskforce and has recently started his own radio show “The Ramblin Rantics of a Self-Proclaimed Knowitall”. He is an accomplished speaker and offers Transgender sensitivity workshops and courses geared toward companies and agencies that wish to make their work place more culturally competent for Transgender People of Color.


Cristina Herrera

Cristina coordinates Gender Identity Project at the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (The Center). She has been working in the field of HIV prevention, advocacy and community organizing for 14 years. Her work includes individual, group counseling sessions for the LGBT community. Some of her focus is providing counseling services around identity, mental health, substance use, and immigration concerns to transgender & gender non-conforming communities. Cristina oversees the TransLatina Initiative that takes place in Western Queens. She recently completed her tenure as board member for the Lorena Borjas Community Fund- The LBCF serves LGBT immigrant community members with collateral consequences associated with criminal convictions, jail time and court appearances. She is also the founder/president of the Translatina Network which is an organized leadership group that works to raise awareness on the vast array of needs of the transgender Latina community. Cristina is also a trainer/ consultant when it comes to working with LGBT communities.


Roystone Martinez, MEd, MA

Roystone J. Martinez hails from East Harlem, NY and his mantra is, “I change lives!”  He takes pride in helping first generation college students and students from marginalized backgrounds self-actualize and realize their true potential.  Ever the educator, he currently serves as the College Prep Instructor for a prestigious charter school network in New York City. Prior to his work as a teacher, he worked for a series of non-profit organizations whose mission focuses on closing the access gap to prestigious institutions for underserved and underprivileged students. Before that, he worked as Associate Director of Admissions for a private, liberal arts college in Boston. MA; helping that institution with their diversity recruitment and persistence needs.  A graduate of Boston College, he received a B.A. in Human Development with a theater minor and a concentration in Black Studies.  He received his first Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Administration, Planning & Social Policy.  His research interest at the time was identifying the variables which help students of color persist at predominantly white institutions. He received his second Master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College with a double focus in Human Development and Developmental Psychology.  His research focus while at Columbia was focused around Hip-Hop music and culture perpetuation of the “Down-Low” phenomena among urban, black and Latino LGBTQ identifying people.  A self-professed gender bender, Roystone’s passion lies in advocacy, education, the arts, and international travel. His interests in gender identity formation was piqued while conducting community service in the Dominican Republic and business travel across Central and South America.


Pauline Park, PhD

Pauline Park is chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), a statewide transgender advocacy organization that she co-founded in 1998, and president of the board of directors as well as acting executive director of Queens Pride House (, which she co-founded in 1997. Park led the campaign for passage of the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in 2002. She negotiated inclusion of gender identity and expression in the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), a safe schools law enacted by the New York state legislature in 2010, and the first fully transgender-inclusive legislation enacted by that body. In 2005, Park became the first openly transgendered grand marshal of the New York City Pride March. She was the subject of “Envisioning Justice: The Journey of a Transgendered Woman,” a 32-minute documentary about her life and work by documentarian Larry Tung that premiered in 2008


Jama Shelton, PhD, LMSW

Jama Shelton is the Director of the Forty to None Project at the True Colors Fund, whose mission is to bring an end to LGBT youth homelessness. For more than a decade, Jama Shelton has worked in the field of LGBT youth homelessness. After receiving an MSW in 2004, Jama began a 9 year stint at the Ali Forney Center, an organization that provides housing and supportive services for gay and transgender youth experiencing homelessness. Having worked in various roles – first as a direct service provider, then developing and directing the expansion of AFC’s housing program, and finally as a researcher, program evaluation and trainer – Jama brings a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing both homeless gay and transgender youth and also the service providers with whom they work. As a trainer, Jama has led numerous workshops and has provided technical assistance to service providers throughout the United States and Canada. Jama received her doctorate in Social Welfare from the CUNY Graduate Center. Her award-winning dissertation examines the unique needs and experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming youth experiencing homelessness. She is also a professor at both the Hunter and NYU Schools of Social Work.


Kim Watson

Kim Watson is the Co-founder of Community Kinship Life, known as CKLife that assists affirmed men &; women with necessary life skills, medical needs, counseling, and access to the resources needed to improve their quality of life & contribution to society. CKLife provides a safe, secure space for affirmed people (& allies when applicable) to meet and learn about life inside & outside of transition. CKLife also sponsors a benefit to raise funds for the CKLife scholarship fund that has helped many affirmed people with paying for necessary transition related procedures. CKLife also participates in many conferences centered around affirmed people such as WPATH, PTHC in Philadelphia, & many more. People across the United States & the world have benefited greatly from the selfless acts of Kim Watson & the CKLife organization. CKLife has set a precedent for non-profit organizations that assist affirmed people and continues to do amazing things in the community at large.


Research staff


Will Mellman, PhD, MSW

Will Mellman, PhD, M.S.W. is the Coordinator of Project AFFIRM. He completed his doctorate in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. He is primarily interested in studying the social factors that influence the health practices and outcomes of transgender individuals. His dissertation focused on the dating and relationship experiences of transgender men and their cisgender partners with a particular focus on how transgender men learn about and navigate romantic relationships in the context of identity development and affirmation. Prior to attending Columbia, Will completed a Master of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania and worked as a clinical therapist for children in various community behavioral health clinics in Philadelphia as well as a patient advocate and clinical case manager for perinatally infected children with HIV at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).


Kasey Jackman, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC

Kasey is a postdoctoral research scientist at the Columbia University School of Nursing and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Kasey’s dissertation research, a mixed methods investigation of nonsuicidal self-injury among transgender people, was supported by a student research grant from the Alpha Zeta Chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society. Kasey was a Jonas Nurse Leader Scholar 2014-2016. Kasey’s research interests focus on the health of sexual and gender minority youth with the goal of decreasing mental health disparities and promoting resilience.



Jonovia Chase

With eagerness to affect change in her community Jonovia found her way to work diligently within both the public health and advocacy field. Operating as a youth intern at the Hetrick Martin Institute from 2010 to 2012, she moved on to her work currently as the LGBT Outreach Specialist at the HEAT Program located in Brooklyn.  Further, at HEAT, she is also a vital staff member on the Trans Woman of Color Initiative, called the Infini-T Project, a HRSA SPNS project. On this project, she has the dual role of being both a navigator and facilitator of Dr. Ayana Elliott’s one of a kind trans-specific behavioral intervention called “Just One of the Girls”(JOG). As a young community stake holder and leader in the House and Ballroom Community, Jonovia continues to mobilize LGBT youth to raise awareness on health and wellness. More specifically, she looks forward to creating more voices for her community to unify and break systematic behaviors geared around stigma and the further marginalization of the Transgender community.  Humanizing the lives of people of Trans experience is what one of her most deep heart felt values are.  She remains hopeful that the work being done by many will continue to affect the change needed in the world.




Walter Bockting, PhD

Walter Bockting, Ph.D., is the Principal Investigator of Project AFFIRM. He is Professor of Medical Psychology (in Psychiatry and Nursing), Columbia University Medical Center and a Research Scientist with the New York State Psychiatric Institute. He is Co-Director of the LGBT Health Initiative, Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health. Dr. Bockting has over 25 years of clinical experience working with transgender individuals, their families and communities. In the early 1990s, he pioneered the first HIV prevention program tailored to the specific needs of the transgender population. Since then, he has worked with transgender communities across the country to promote their health and wellbeing. Dr. Bockting served on the Institute of Medicine Committee that produced the report “The Health of LGBT People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding” (2011). He is a past president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and an author of the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People. For AFFIRM, he will lead a team of investigators and community leaders in deepening our understanding of the lived experiences of transgender women and men of all ages and backgrounds. Findings will be translated into innovative interventions to reduce stigma, promote wellness, and improve access to care.


Anke A. Ehrhardt, PhD

Dr. Ehrhardt is the Director of the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health, and also a Division Chief at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. She is a Professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University and has served as Vice Chair for Academic Affairs of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University since 2007. For over 30 years, Dr. Ehrhardt has been a researcher in the field of sexual and gender development of children, adolescents, and adults; as well as in the clinical and behavioral aspects of HIV prevention. Dr. Ehrhardt founded the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the NYS Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University in 1987 and served as Director for 25 years. Dr. Ehrhardt’s research includes a wide range of studies on determinants of sexual risk behavior among children, adolescents, heterosexual women and men, and the gay population. She conducted some of the very first clinical cohort studies of transgender individuals several decades ago. Dr. Ehrhardt brings her extensive experience in research and an in-depth understanding of gender identity and sexual development to Project AFFIRM.


Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, Dr. rer. nat.

Dr. Meyer-Bahlburg is a Research Scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry of Columbia University, an Associate Director of its Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health, and a member of its Organizing Committee of the Initiative for LGBT Health. Dr. Meyer-Bahlburg’s primary research interest is the developmental psychobiology of gender and sexuality and related assessment methods. In this context, he directs the Program of Developmental Psychoendocrinology with a focus on intersexuality and the development of gender identity and its variants, and a small Psychoendocrine Clinic serving children and adolescents with intersexuality and transgender problems. He is also Director of the HIV-Center’s Development Core.


Curtis Dolezal, PhD

Dr. Dolezal is a Research Scientist at the Division of Gender, Sexuality, & Health and has been at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies since 1991.  He is a co-investigator and data analyst for several projects at the HIV Center and has documented and manages several data sets covering the entire history of the Center.  He has been involved in the development of several research instruments, with a particular focus on assessing sexual behavior, in a wide variety of populations (adolescents and adults; heterosexual, homosexual, and transsexual; individuals and dyads) both in the United States and internationally.  He has extensive experience with programming and managing surveys using computer-assisted technologies (e.g., online, web-based surveys).  His research interests include sexual risk behavior, substance use, childhood sexual experiences, psychoendocrinology, and methodology/measurement.


David M. Frost, PhD

Dr. Frost is an Assistant Professor of Population and Family Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.  Trained as a social and personality psychologist, his research examines how stigma, prejudice, and discrimination constitute minority stress and, as a result, affect the health and well-being of marginalized individuals. He is currently involved in multiple research projects examining sexual minority individuals’ experiences of stigmatization and the resulting impact on their relational, sexual, and mental health.  Dr. Frost teaches courses in the areas of sexuality, LGBT health, research methods, and data analysis.