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

136 Risk, Identity, and Engagement Among Sexual Minority Youth: Innovative Approaches and Future Directions

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Latrobe (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Sexual Orientation
Symposium Organizer:
Colleen M. Fisher, PhD, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Diane Elze, PhD, University at Buffalo, State University of New York
Sexual minority youth--who may employ a wide variety of labels to describe their non-heterosexual or gender nonconforming identities--have unique stories to tell. Research indicates that these young people may have markedly different developmental trajectories and challenges than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. A well-established literature documents the stigma, harassment and violence that many sexual minority youth experience in their families of origin (D'Augelli, Grossman & Starks, 2008), schools (Grossman, Haney & Edwards, 2009), and social service settings (Clements & Rosenwald, 2007). Most efforts over the past two decades have addressed their heightened risk (e.g., suicide, substance use, sexual risk taking, homelessness). More recent studies have focused on the factors which promote resilience among this population (Asakura, 2010), including having "safe spaces" (Davis, Saltzburg & Locke, 2009) and sexuality-related forms of social support (Arnold & Bailey, 2009).

Researchers are increasingly challenged to keep pace with the continual evolution of sexual minority youths' identities and needs as well as the shifting sociopolitical and cultural contexts in which they occur (Elze, 2005; Martin & D'Augelli, 2009). Sexual minority youth "challenge us to rethink the very status of gender, generation, sexuality, and culture, and they push us to become nuanced in the ways we read, watch, and listen to young people telling their own stories and envisioning their own futures" (Driver, 2008, p.1). Thus, innovative research methods are needed which extend our understanding, engage these youth in the research process, and honor their unique experiences and stories.

Framed in the history of research with sexual minority youth, the presentations in this symposium address risk, identity and engagement among sexual minority youth and suggest innovative approaches to advance knowledge in this area. The first study identifies contextual risk factors and psychosocial outcomes related to homelessness among sexual minority youth, underscoring the persistent disproportionate risks compared to heterosexual peers and the need for innovative transitional living programs such as Q-Block in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The second study explores three approaches to research with multi-ethnic sexual minority youth, highlighting new knowledge about identity classification and creative strategies for engaging sexual minority youth and communities in research. The third study, the first known systematic review on bullying victimization among sexual minority youth, examines key risk factors and offers strategies for narrowing the gap between this research and the general adolescent bullying literature. The fourth study uses an innovative mixed method approach with sexual minority youth to explore the contexts in which sexual identity development occurs, illustrating the potential benefits of this method for improving data collection and engaging youth in the research process.

Collectively, these presentations advance our knowledge of the emerging risks, identity development, and engagement of sexual minority youth, each identifying key strengths and limitations of current research approaches. Together with the concluding discussion, moderated by a leading social work researcher in this area, these presentations also create an integrated road map for social work researchers and provide an opportunity to collectively consider effective research that truly makes a difference for sexual minority youth.

* noted as presenting author
Bullying Victimization Among Sexual Minority Youths: A Systematic Review
Paul Sterzing, MSSW, Washington University in Saint Louis; Wendy Auslander, PhD, Washington University in Saint Louis
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