Who We Are

Together Forward Research Group

Welcome! Thank you for your interest in Together Forward. We are proud of the interdisciplinary backgrounds and representation of many gender identities on our team. We are also intentional about collaboration with community and clinical partners, and though all may not be listed below, these partners are essential members of our team.


Join our actively enrolling studies to contribute to groundbreaking research on transgender and gender expansive health.

Avery Anderson

Avery M. Anderson, PhD, MS, PMHNP-BC, APRN
he/him – Assistant Professor
Dr. Anderson's Bio

Dr. Anderson is an Assistant Professor and Endowed Early Scholar in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. His primary research interests center on TGD youth and young adult mental health. With a focus on health equity, Avery examines socioecological contributors to suicide among TGD young people and plans to expand his program of research to include upstream interventions aimed at suicide prevention. He received his PhD in nursing from Ohio State University and holds a part-time appointment as a Nurse Scientist with Children's Hospital Colorado. Avery loves all things outdoors - skiing, hiking, mountain biking, frolicking with his dog, etc. - and cookies! 

Christine Rael

Christine Tagliaferri Rael, PhD
she/her/ella – Assistant Professor
Dr. Rael's Bio

Dr. Rael is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. She is interested in using user-centered design principles to tailor the use of existing and emerging biomedical HIV prevention products to the needs of transgender women. In addition to being MPI of the GenSight study, she is also the PI of a K01 Award (K01MH115785) to develop and test behaviorally congruent strategies to deliver long-acting injectable cabotegravir for PrEP to transgender women, and MPI of an R21 (R21MH132421) to develop and test a virtual tool to recruit and enroll transgender women in Phase 1 HIV vaccine studies. Dr. Rael is a Gray Matters Fellow, a 5-time NIH LRP recipient, and a Fulbright scholar. She enjoys the Colorado outdoors with her husband, two daughters, and her elderly mini schnauzer.

Samantha Stonbraker

Samantha Stonbraker PhD, MPH, RN
she/her/ella – Assistant Professor
Dr. Stonbraker's Bio

Dr. Stonbraker’s research focuses on developing and evaluating informatics-based interventions to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities in populations experiencing health disparities locally and globally. She specializes in designing and evaluating information visualizations and digital tools to enhance communication and shared decision-making. She is currently supported by her NIH-funded K99/R00 career development award (K99/R00 NR017829) that aims to assess the efficacy of using a mobile application that contains the HIV-related infographics she developed to enhance clinical communication with Latino persons living with HIV through a multi-site randomized controlled trial. She is also an MPI (Rael/Stonbraker) of a NIMH-funded R21 (R21MH132421) aiming to develop a mobile app to promote recruitment and retention of transgender women in HIV vaccine trials and an MPI (Rael/Stonbraker/Sun) of the inaugural research study of Together Forward research group, the Dean’s Intramural Research Award-funded GENSIGHT Together study.

Christina Sun

Christina J. Sun, PhD, MS
she/her – Associate Professor
Dr. Sun's Bio

Dr. Sun’s research is focused on reducing health inequities through community-based approaches and interventions. Since 2013, she has been working with transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) populations locally and globally.  In addition to being an MPI of the GenSight Together study, she is currently PI of an NIH-funded project to develop and pilot test the first tobacco cessation mobile-optimized website tailored to TGD adults (R34DA058191). She is also a Fulbright Global Scholar and conducts photo-elicitation interviews with TGD adults in Botswana and Taiwan. Christina loves analog stationery, and you can find her thinking through what paper/pen combo feels just right!

Anthony Nuñez
he/him/él – Research Services Professional

Anthony Nuñez is a Research Services Professional at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in applied psychology at Regis University, where he also completed his Bachelor of Science in the same specialization. Anthony comes with a background in healthcare and a previous role as a behavioral health crisis specialist at Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. Presently, his work is primarily centered on assisting with research projects, with a particular focus on transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) populations. Beyond his academic and research endeavors, Anthony is passionate about the arts and music. He's also an accomplished aerialist, specializing in both the aerial rope and dance trapeze.

Evelyn Iriarte

Evelyn Iriarte, PhD, MSN, RN
she/her/ella – Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Iriarte's Bio

Evelyn Iriarte, PhD, MSN, RN (She/Her/Ella) is a bilingual nurse with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master's degree in nursing at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She completed her PhD in Nursing at the University of Miami, Florida. Dr. Iriarte is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. Her research interests are aging care, frailty, HIV prevention and self-management, and health disparities among Latinos/as/xs living in the US.


Heather Smyth

Heather L. Smyth, PhD
she/her – Research Associate

Dr. Smyth is a Research Associate at the Center for Innovative Design and Analysis (CIDA) in the Colorado School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics and Informatics. As a collaborative team scientist, she provides statistical support in the design and analysis of research studies, data management and quality assurance, statistical modeling of outcomes, and the interpretation and dissemination of results. Trained as a Quantitative Psychologist, Heather specializes in mediation & moderation, causal inference, psychometrics, and latent variable modeling. She is deeply interested in measurement and study design issues related to health equity in the LGBTQ+ community. Heather spends her free time performing with Mile High Freedom Bands, an inclusive community band that makes positive contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and allies through music.

Lukas Neafsey

Lukas Neafsey, BSN, RN
he/they – PhD Student

Lukas is currently a first-year student in the University of Colorado Nursing PhD program. They are also a medical oncology nurse at The University of Colorado Hospital (Anschutz). Though Lukas is new to the field of research, he is passionate about advocacy for queer and transgender youth and young adults within the healthcare space, as well as sharing his story in hopes that those spaces may become safer for the transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) community. Lukas is also an OUT Athlete, and a member of the OUT Foundation, which is an organization that empowers LGBTQ+ young adults by providing access to inclusive fitness spaces, wellness resources, and more.

Melissa Golden

Melissa Golden, MSW
they/them – Social Worker/Community Liaison
Transgender Center of the Rockies

Melissa Golden is a harm reduction social worker at the Transgender Center of the Rockies. They earned their BA from the University of Michigan and their MSW from the University of Denver. Melissa’s work centers on community building, providing one-on-one support, HIV prevention, and all things harm reduction. While new to the world of research, they are passionate about bringing trans voices to the table and are proud to be a part of the Together Forward team!


Anthony Velasco

Roque Anthony F. Velasco, MS, APRN, AGPCNP-BC, CNS
he/they/siya – PhD Candidate

Anthony Velasco is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. His research centers on stigma and primary care access among TGD older adults. He led the creation of a regionally recognized TGD Health Program at DAP Health clinics in Southern California. Anthony is a credentialed HIV Specialist, WPATH-certified provider in TGD Health, and board-certified in three specialty areas. He was awarded the Stonewall Humanitarian Award by the Transgender Community Coalition and Excellence in Clinical Practice by the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care. Anthony is passionate about improving healthcare access, especially among historically minoritized communities.

Sarah Eskew

Sarah Eskew, BA
she/her – Research Services Professional

Sarah Eskew is a Research Services Professional at the University of Colorado College of Nursing. She earned both her BA in Public Health and a graduate certificate in global health with a concentration in healthcare policies and systems from the University of South Carolina. She is currently working on a variety of wonderful research studies that cover topics ranging from respectful maternity care to heart failure to the health and well-being of transgender youth. She is passionate about women’s reproductive health and reproductive rights, and through research, she eventually hopes to uncover the best ways to address global reproductive health disparities. In her free time, Sarah loves to read. She is always looking for book recommendations!

Zach Giano
Zachary Giano PhD, MA
he/him – Research Associate

Dr. Giano is a Biostatistician in the Department of Biostatistics & Informatics and a faculty member of the Center for Innovative Design & Analysis (CIDA). Dr. Giano’s research interests include the relationship between health disparities and social determinants of health across racial/ethnic, sex, sexual orientation, and geographic profiles. In particular, he has conducted extensive research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs; defined as abuse, neglect, and other adversity before the age of 18), and how those experiences translate to health outcomes in adulthood across various demographic characteristics. In this domain, Dr. Giano specializes in mixture modeling (e.g., latent class analysis), structural equation modeling, and hierarchical linear modeling. When Dr. Giano isn’t conducting analyses, you can find him on the ski slopes, tennis court, or at the dog park with his son, Cookie, a Jack Russell Terrier.
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