Abstract: Stressors and Strengths of Sexual Minority Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

129P Stressors and Strengths of Sexual Minority Youth

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Darrel Higa, PhD , University of Washington, Research Scientist, Seattle, WA
Marilyn Hoppe, PhD , University of Washington, Senior Research Scientist, Seattle, WA
Taryn Lindhorst, PhD , University of Washington, Associate Professor, Seattle, WA
Shawn Mincer, MSW , University of Washington, Research Associate, Seattle, WA
Blair Beadnell, PhD , University of Washington, Principal Research Scientist, Seattle, WA
Diane Morrison, PhD , University of Washington, Professor, Seattle, WA
Elizabeth A. Wells, PhD , University of Washington, Research Professor, Seattle, WA
Avry Todd, MSW , University of Washington, Research Associate, Seattle, WA
Sarah Mountz, MSW , University of Washington, Research Associate, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose: There is some evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth are at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases, school-related problems, physical violence, verbal threats, forced sex, depression, suicide, and other health-related problems compared to youth identifying as heterosexual. However, the poor outcomes resulting from these increased risks are neither inevitable nor necessarily inherent to being a sexual minority person. Rather, they may be due to multiple intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental factors. Little is known about the range of such factors and how they work to create health and mental health vulnerabilities for LGBTQ youth. Moreover, relatively few research studies on LGBTQ youth have included constructs and models that also focus on their strengths and resiliencies.

Methods: To begin to better understand the strengths as well as the stressors that may characterize and influence outcomes for LGBTQ youth, focus groups and interviews were conducted with youth to elicit narratives of their experiences as well as factors they felt contributed to their well-being. Eligibility criteria included being 14 -19, speaking English, and self-identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexual or gender identity (LGBTQ). Using IRB-approved methods, we recruited the majority of study participants from existing LGBTQ youth groups across Washington State that varied in size and availability of services. All focus groups and individual interviews were digitally-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Participants were paid $15 for taking part in the focus group or interview process. Transcriptions were uploaded into Atlas.ti 5.0, and were analyzed by research staff using a consensual methods approach.

Results: Sixty-eight youth took part in the study. The average age was 17; 43% of the youth were white, 35% multiracial, 6% African American, and 6% Latino. About an equal number of youth self-identified as male or female, with 2 youth identifying as intersex. Fifty-two percent identified as lesbian/gay/homosexual, 27% as bisexual, 12% as transgender and 11% were straight allies. Personal and environmental factors were included in this analysis. Content was coded into domains of stressors and strengths that included family, school, cultural, religious, identity, personal response, mentors, and community involvement. Across domains, the stressors most often mentioned were rejection, verbal and physical harassment, invisibility, isolation, negative experiences related to religion, and lack of resources for LGBTQ organizations. Strengths included acceptance, support, flexibility, friends, LGBTQ organizations, and mentors.

Conclusions and Implications: LGBTQ youth experience many stressors and strengths in their lives and much work needs to be done to reduce homophobia and increase acceptance and tolerance. Analyses of qualitative data collected for this study reveal that youth feel stressors more likely occur from environmental factors that include family, school, culture, and religion while strengths that were discussed fell mainly into personal factors such as identity, personal responses, peers, and community involvement. Recommendations include finding ways to help LGBTQ youth develop strong support systems through peers and mentors and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth such as GSA's and positive youth organizations.