“It Gave Me Hope”: Can Online Media Facilitate the Resilience of Sexual Minority Youth?
Methods: The study utilized an in-depth, grounded theory strategy to generate a rich qualitative understanding of SMY youth and online media. Inclusion criteria included sexual minority identification and utilization of a minimum of four types of new media platforms. The study adhered to an Institutional Research Board protocol and participants received gift cards as incentives. Audio and video-recorded interviews (n=19) of 1–3 hours in length (total 36 hours) were conducted. The semi-structured interview protocol utilized open-ended questions (e.g. how do you use online media? Has media helped you helped you overcome obstacles or barriers in your life?). Following interview completion, ATLAS.ti 6 was utilized to facilitate coding with seven independent coders using grounded theory strategies (Charmaz, 2006). Open and axial coding of categories led to the identification and ordering of concepts, generation of categories, and eventually development of themes (Patton, 2002). To facilitate rigor as well as methodological soundness, trustworthiness measures were employed (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), including prolonged engagement, peer debriefing, thick description, and an audit trail.
Results: Participants, ranging in age from 18-22, clearly identified the benefits of online media for SMY youth. Specifically, online media provided them with opportunities to: (1) seek out the SMY-specific support, (2) feel empowered, (3) participate in social action, and (4) foster diverse sexual minority communities. In particular, participants noted the ability to negotiate identities in the relatively anonymous spaces provided by online media. The support, empowerment and connections accessed via online media fostered participants’ opportunities for identity exploration and development, as well as their resiliency to adverse circumstances by allowing them to select peer networks and opportunities for engagement. Crucially, for participants these online activities were inextricably integrated with their offline experiences, directly challenging the antiquated assumption of a dichotomy between online and offline experiences in the lives of contemporary youth.
Implications: This study highlighted often complex interrelation of online and offline experiences for SMY as well as the opportunities provided by online media for identity development and enhancement of their resiliency and well-being. The implications for social work research and practice with SMY will be discussed.