‘It Gets Better' but How? Pathways to Resilience in the Accounts of LGBT Adults
Risk and vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are well-documented. Compared to their heterosexual counterparts, LGBT youth are significantly more likely to report depression, substance abuse, sexual risk, and suicide. Studying risk outcomes alone, however, does not inform key stakeholders of how to mitigate risk and promote the well-being of LGBT youth. In light of increasing reports on bullying and suicide among LGBT youth in recent years, research must expand its focus from risk outcomes to resilience promotion among LGBT youth. The purpose of this study was to explore pathways to resilience in the accounts of LGBT adults posted on YouTubevideos.
“It Gets Better” (IGB) is a social media campaign initiated in 2010 in response to a series of youth suicide incidents following anti-LGBT bullying. In this qualitative content analysis of IGB videos, I addressed the research question, “How do LGBT adults account for their lives getting better?” Given the large number of IGB videos available online (i.e., 30,000+), I employed purposive sampling. I began by reviewing all of the videos posted by employees of companies that sponsored the IGBcampaign (e.g., Google) as initial sampling frame. From there, I identified and analyzed the videos (n=11) that met the following inclusion criteria: 1) Adults describing adversities of having grown up as LGBT, 2) “ordinary” people, not celebrities, and 3) individuals describing how life got better for them. I kept a time indexed content log, including detailed descriptions of both verbal and non-verbal events. Grounded theory coding techniques were employed for inductive data analysis, such as initial, focused and axial coding and constant comparative method. Memo-writing was used extensively during data collection and analysis to ensure trustworthiness.
Four major themes emerged: 1) Leaving the hostile social environment; 2) Experiencing “coming out” in meaningful ways; 3) Re-Membering the social environment; and 4) Challenge provides strengths and opportunities. Despite the collective nature of the IGBcampaign, the pathways to resilience initially emerged through each individual’s unique capacity and resources to negotiate with their hostile social environments. Physically moving away from hostile sites (e.g., hometown) offered them opportunities to locate a more LGBT-affirming environment. Although “coming out” also marked a turning point for their lives getting better, its form and significance varied across individuals. Furthermore, LGBT individuals developed and maintained their adult social environments by actively surrounding themselves with those who supported them through challenges and affirmed their LGBT identities. Finally, LGBT individuals attributed their lives getting better to the character strengths and coping skills they developed because of their childhood/adolescent adversities.
Study findings provide a nuanced look at pathways to resilience among LGBT individuals. The retrospective nature of the data analyzed in this study complement previous cross-sectional studies by suggesting ways in which resilience develops over time through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Finally, this study emphasizes social workers’ roles not only in helping LGBT youth carefully assess their current situations but also in helping them develop long-term skills required to navigate themselves to healthy adulthood.