Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15640 Resolving Conflict Between Sexual or Gender Identity and a Christian Upbringing: Conclusions and Comparisons

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 4:30 PM
Latrobe (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Denise L. Levy, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Jessica Lo, BSW, Graduate Student, Appalachian State University, Lenoir, NC
Many Christian denominations have recently reviewed and revised their policies on homosexuality. Not only has this topic been debated within congregations, but it has also caused major schisms within denominations. Researchers have documented the effects of religious doctrine on gay and lesbian individuals (Buchanan, Dzelme, Harris, & Hecker, 2001; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000), but there is limited information about the experiences of transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming individuals with a Christian upbringing (Kidd & Witten, 2008).

This presentation will include results and a comparison of two studies, one focusing on sexual orientation and one concentrating on gender identity. The purpose of these studies was to understand the process by which individuals with a Christian upbringing resolve conflicts between sexual or gender identity and religious beliefs. Within this purpose, there were four research questions: (a) how do participants define the conflict between their sexual or gender identity and religious beliefs? (b) what personal and contextual factors shaped their efforts to resolve this conflict? (c) what is the process by which individuals resolve this conflict? and (d) how do participants describe their resolution of this conflict?

Utilizing a grounded theory approach, these studies included interviews with 18 participants who were selected using maximum variation and theoretical sampling. The sample was diverse in terms of age, gender and sexual identity, and religious denomination. Semi-structured interviews lasted from 45 to 105 minutes and took place over 20 months, and all transcripts were coded using open, focused, and axial coding. Finally, the following techniques ensured trustworthiness: triangulation, peer examinations, member checks, a subjectivity statement, maximum-variation sampling, constant comparison, and memo writing.

Analysis of transcripts led to the following results for participants in both studies: a) participants developed a more personalized faith; b) participants experienced a five-stage process of resolving conflict between sexual or gender identity and religious beliefs; and c) this process was impacted by personal and contextual factors.

In comparing the two studies, the following conclusions emerged: a) in Christian churches, sexuality is discussed far more than gender identity and expression; b) participants' conflicts related to sexual identity were more intense and led to more conversions than conflicts related to gender identity; and c) Christian participants experiencing conflict related to gender identity were less likely attend church because of fears of standing out.

Theoretically, these studies advance literature related to faith, sexuality, gender identity, conflict resolution, and transformational learning. Practically, they provide professionals with information about the process by which individuals resolve conflict between sexual or gender identity and Christian upbringing. These studies also lay the groundwork for future quantitative and generalizable research.

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