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

17439 Hidden Gems: Emerging Identities and Research Opportunities with Multi-Ethnic Sexual Minority Youth

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 3:00 PM
Latrobe (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
Background and Purpose: Sexual minority youth (SMY) are at unique risk of discrimination from peers, schools and families (Bos, Sandfort, de Bruym & Hakvoort, 2008; Kosicow, Greytak & Diaz, 2009), and despite many important advances, research efforts with this population continue to encounter substantial barriers. Investigative challenges based on identity classification, effective youth partnerships and family or community involvement abound. Questions about the construction of identity variables persist despite the argument that a cultural shift has resulted in SMY accessing complex sexual identity taxonomies (Cohler & Hammack, 2007; Savin-Williams, 2005). However, little research has investigated whether multi-ethnic sexual minority youth (MSMY) may define their sexual identities differently from their Caucasian counterparts and how this impacts data collection and analysis. Some literature has extolled the virtues of youth engagement in research (Berberet, 2006) but few studies have described specific techniques with MSMY. Further, the development of a shared research agenda between researchers and service delivery agencies could be a method of leveraging existing community strengths to enhance research efforts and build community capacity. Framed in the history of service provision, this paper will describe the findings from a mixed method investigation of youth identity and engagement in research.

Methods: Culled from focus groups and client files, three examples of research approaches with MSMY will be described: (1) the collection and analysis of sexual orientation and gender identity data; (2) youth engagement in research through the formation of a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and (3) the development of partnerships with community based organizations to develop a shared research agenda. The strengths and limitations of such approaches will be discussed. With the assistance of Atlas-Ti, qualitative data was analyzed for themes using content analysis and with multiple coders enhancing trustworthiness. Quantitative data was analyzed using SPSS to generate frequencies and descriptive data.

Results: Despite twenty-five options generated from consultation with the YAB, MSMY (n= 605) self-identified using the classical taxonomy of lesbian (36%), gay (25%), and bisexual (27%), with very few using queer (3%) or questioning (2%) or other (6%). Themes regarding youth engagement in research included: (a) “I felt I could make a difference”, (b) “research is fun”, and (c) “I liked being asked”. A survey of agency staff found that 95% felt “research was worthwhile”.

Conclusion and Implications: (1) Our somewhat surprising findings concerning identity classification suggest that this supposed shift in the negotiation and categorization of sexual identity may not be occurring for MSMY. Possible reasons for these dissimilarities, including geographic, cultural and socio-demographic factors will be discussed and research implications explored. This is particularly important as MSMY may be at increased risk of negative outcomes as a result of their dual-minority identity status. (2) Our findings further highlight the importance of youth engagement in such research efforts and specific strategies for inclusion will be described. (3) Finally, novel research collaborations based on existing program efforts should be encouraged to truly produce research that makes a difference.