What is the Queer Health Hackathon?

The Queer Health Hackathon is an opportunity for data scientists to collaborate with medical/clinical experts to better understand health disparities in the LGBTQ community. Participants will have access to de-identified patient data from a premier healthcare organization. We hope people will use access to the data and the cross-functional community to learn something about differences in disease occurence or health outcomes for the LGBTQ population.

The Queer Health Hackathon is a project of Queer Health Access, itself an initiative of the Tegan and Sara Foundation.

Who Should Apply?

We’re looking for people with a variety of backgrounds:

  • Clinicians, nurses, and healthcare providers interested in LGBTQ health
  • Health policy analysts and researchers
  • Data scientists and data science students
  • Software engineers and coding students
  • Statisticians
  • And more…

If you’re interested in the kinds of questions we’re planning to explore, we encourage you to apply.

What’s the application deadline?

All applications are due by August 12.

Why do I have to apply? Can I just show up?

Unfortunately, space limitations and data access requirements mean that only selected participants will be able to be part of the hackathon weekend.

Will there be a selection process?

Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept all applicants. We have limited space at the venue, so we will need to limit to approximately 50 people.

What if I’ve never been to a hackathon before?

We’re thrilled that you’ve chosen this as your first hackathon! We welcome first-timers as well as experienced hackers. A hackathon is best described as an “invention marathon”. Anyone who has an interest in queer health or data science can apply to learn, build & share their creations over the course of a weekend in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. We’ve got more questions specifically designed to put first-timers at ease here.


What are the expectations of participants?

First and foremost, we want you to bring your enthusiasm and creativity.

Queer Health Hackathon is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, mental or physical disability, physical appearance, neuro(a)typicality, religion, level of knowledge, level of experience, parental status, marital status, socioeconomic status or background, political affiliation, or any other attribute. We do not tolerate harassment of hackathon participants or volunteers in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any hackathon venue, including talks. Hackathon participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the hackathon at the discretion of the organizers. We expect everyone to comply with our full code of conduct, which can be found here.

What’s the schedule?

Friday evening:

  • optional mixer and happy hour


  • 8am: Breakfast Welcome, code of conduct review, healthcare data regulations review, dataset overview
  • 9am: Project proposals
  • 9:30am: Team formation session; hacking begins
  • 12pm: Lunch is served
  • 8pm: Broad Institute closes; hacking may continue elsewhere or pause for the night


  • 8am: Broad Institute re-opens; hacking continues over breakfast
  • 12pm: Lunch is served
  • 1pm: Project presentations
  • 3pm: Close

How much does it cost?

Participation in the hackathon is free. Participants are responsible for their own travel to Cambridge and lodging. If cost is an issue, we encourage you to apply. We are hoping to offer travel stipends to those who need them.

What are the hours of the hackathon?

We’ll have space available at the Broad Institute from 8am to 8pm on Saturday, and from 8am to the close of the event around 3pm on Sunday. Teams or individuals may choose to work outside of those hours, but are certainly not expected to.

Where will it take place?

The Broad Institute has kindly agreed to host us for the weekend. The Broad Institute is located at 415 Main Street, Cambridge, MA.

Will food be provided?

We will have breakfast (generously provided by Dunkin’ Donuts) and lunch (courtesy of Jersey Mike’s) on both Saturday and Sunday. Water and sodas will be available throughout the event. Dinner will be on your own – or with your team!

Is this an all-night thing? Where do I sleep?

We’re not expecting teams to stay up all night. In fact, we encourage you to get a good night’s sleep! We’re working on getting a block of rooms at a discounted rate, but you’ll be responsible for your own lodging. A few ideas:

Very near

Kendall Hotel

Boston Marriott Cambridge

Le Meridien Cambridge-MIT

Accessible by public transit or a decent walk, less expensive

Irving House

A Friendly Inn at Harvard Square

If you’re interested in sharing a room with another hackathon participant, let us know on your application.

What if I can’t afford to travel to Cambridge, but I love machine learning and healthcare and LGBTQ things and Tegan and Sara?

Please apply! We’re hoping to offer travel stipends to help offset the cost of attending. If cost is an issue for you, please note on your application that you’d like to be considered for a stipend.

What should I do with my kids while I’m at the hackathon?

Please note on your application that you need childcare. We’re working on providing childcare as needed to ensure the hackathon is accessible to everyone. We will have space available if you need to breast/chest feed or pump milk.

How can I help?

We’re looking for sponsors – if you know of an organization that might be interested, please let us know by emailing [email protected]. Our sponsorship proposal can be found here.


Do I have enough experience to apply?

If you’re interested, then yes you do! If you’re approaching this from the perspective of data science, it will be helpful to have had a course or two (or equivalent practical experience) in data analysis and/or large datasets. If you’re approaching this from the perspective of someone interested in health equality and queer healthcare, bring your subject matter knowledge and your big heart.

What kinds of questions will we be exploring?

That’s really going to be up to you. Here are some ideas we think the dataset might be able to help us explore:

  • Are people who take gender-confirming hormone therapy more likely to take medication for other conditions (ex, diabetes) as well?
  • How do cancer rates differ between people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi/pansexual, or straight?
  • Do sexual and/or gender minorities experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease or associated risk factors?
  • Are there differences in rates of access to preventive medicine services such as cancer screening, viral hepatitis screening, or HIV screening between sexual/gender minorities and those who do not so identify?
  • How do diagnoses of substance abuse disorder differ between sexual or gender minorities and people of a sexual and gender majority?

These are just a few thought-starters. We anticipate that participants will have many great ideas and are excited to see what you want to study.

I have an idea for a project already.

That’s fantastic. Let us know on your application. At the beginning of the event, we’ll have time for people to share their ideas and, if you want, ask for team members to join you. It’s helpful if you can think ahead of time about the question you want to explore, and what kinds of knowledge other people might be able to contribute to strengthen your idea. And you never know, you might end up going in an entirely different direction based on conversations at the event!

What if I don’t have an idea?

That’s ok. We don’t expect everyone to come into the event with an idea. Once you start talking to people, you might come up with something. Or someone else might have an idea that you can help with. We’ll also be releasing more information about the data set a few weeks before the event, which could spark an idea. In the meantime, we suggest reading up on LGBTQ Health!

Do I have to present back to the group?

We hope every participant or team will share back with the larger group at the end of the hackathon. Your team can choose which person or persons speak. We’d like to see:

  • Approximately 5 minute presentation
  • Output from your data science model
  • Metrics for the model
  • Narrative about how that output informs our understanding of queer health
  • What you would do next if you had more time or data

We’ll have great presenters and data visualization experts on hand to help you put together your presentation.

Will there be prizes?

Yes! But we can’t tell you about them just yet.

Who are the judges? What are the judging criteria?

Judges and prizes will be announced later. Success criteria will include some combination of: relevance (to queer health), skill/performance of your model, innovation, collaboration, pragmatism, and “wow factor”. We’re taking input from our judges now, and will be publishing more formal judging criteria by the start of the event.

Can I publish something based on this event?

Yes. We ask that you acknowledge the contribution of the dataset provider (whose name will be revealed at the event), our Principal Investigators, and the Tegan and Sara Foundation. And please send a copy of your publication to [email protected].

What should I bring?

Laptop, power cord, cell phone, charger, notebook, pen/pencil, business cards or resumes, water bottle, and lots of creative energy!

Your laptop should already have whatever software, data science, or statistics packages you like – we won’t be providing those. In addition, in order to access our potentially sensitive (but totally awesome) dataset, all computers or portable devices that will be used to access the data must: have password protections enabled; have active anti-virus software; and be full disk encrypted.

My question wasn’t answered.

Please email us at [email protected].

If You’re a Little Apprehensive About a “Hackathon”

With thanks to Major League Hacking and Yale Hack Health for questions and answers.

Will I annoy people if I ask them questions?

Not at all! This is a common misconception about hackathons. In actual fact, it’s the complete opposite. The environment at these events are designed specifically to encourage everyone to have fun and help each other. If you’re ever stuck on anything, go find a volunteer who might be able to help and they’ll help you track down an answer.

What if I don’t know anyone there?

Not to worry! You’ll get to meet people when you arrive. We’ll have a meet & greet on Friday night, and a team-matching session at the start of the day on Saturday to help get people together.

What if I don’t have an idea?

That’s ok. We expect that most people won’t come into the event with an idea. Once you start talking to people, you might come up with something. Or someone else might have an idea that you can help with.

What should I bring?

Laptop, power cord, cell phone, charger, notebook, pen/pencil, business cards or resumes, water bottle, and lots of creative energy!

Can we apply as a team?

We ask that every person who wants to join the Queer Health Hackathon apply individually. We have limited space for this event, and want to ensure a mix of people, so we’ll be evaluating each application individually. Teams can form once acceptances have been announced, at the Friday night mixer, or on Saturday. When creating a team, we recommend you strive for a mix of expertise: data science, clinical, UX, etc. This will help your team be successful in finding a relevant question to explore, explore it successfully, and communicate your findings.