The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Participatory Action Research As a Tool for Social Change: Lgbtq Young People Impacting Their Communities

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
M. Alex Wagaman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Background and Purpose:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified (LGBTQ) youth, as a population of focus, have been included in national dialogues about important issues including bullying, school climate, and suicide. LGBTQ young people are, however, rarely at the tables where agendas are set to address these pressing concerns. Particularly outside of the school setting, little is known about what issues concern LGBTQ youth/young adults as they maneuver through environments that are often hostile toward them. Scholars have suggested that activism and community engagement have positive benefits at individual and community levels. In order to adequately address the systemic issues facing LGBTQ young people, and to develop programs and interventions to most effectively meet their needs, young people themselves must be in positions to give voice to their concerns and engage with those in power.  Participatory action research (PAR) has the potential to include LGBTQ youth voices in shaping their communities and the services that support them. This study identified aspects of the PAR process that can be used to incorporate LGBTQ youth voices in community change.



Eight young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were recruited through an LGBTQ youth-serving organization to participate in a 16-week participatory action research project. A purposive sampling approach was used to ensure racial/ethnic and gender identity diversity. The project included the design, implementation, and reflexive process of a research study focused on an issue selected by the participants. The young people developed a team environment that supported growth and learning. The participants identified key aspects of the process that most impacted them – individually and collectively. These reflections were used as a thematic guide for an analytic process using both journal entries and 40 hours of audio-recordings of team meetings.


Four primary themes of what had an impact on them as individuals and/or as a group were identified by the PAR participants including: (a) relationships, (b) communication, (c) participation and (d) inclusion. The PAR process had an impact on the participants and developed relationships built on deep understandings of one another. They reported greater ability to see the value in their differences, and clarify their expectations of one another. The young people identified their experiences working through conflicts within the team, and viewing communication from others’ perspectives as being impactful. Participation gave the young people a sense of ownership and investment over their research, which influenced their sense of self and skill development. Finally, they developed a greater understanding of what it takes to build inclusive spaces, to stand up against exclusion in their daily lives, and share strategies they learned to create change in their communities.


The findings of this study have important implications for researchers and service providers interested in frameworks that support individual growth and community change. PAR is a model that can be used in various settings to include LGBTQ youth voices in the process of setting research, service, and community engagement agendas while also positively impacting the lives of those involved.