“I Can Be a Whole Me”: Religious Lgbtq Individuals Negotiating Intersecting Identities in Community Organizations
Research on LGBTQ individuals and communities suggests that community involvement is an important factor predicting positive health outcomes for LGBTQ populations (Hostetler, 2012). Additionally, being part of a religious community is associated with well-being (Strawbridge, Shema, Cohen, & Kaplan, 2001). For religious LGBTQ individuals, the intersection of religious and sexual/gender identities may contribute to increased stress. Many religious communities are intolerant of people who are LGBTQ (Ream & Savin-Williams, 2005) while people at LGBTQ organizations may be leery of people with religious identities due to past marginalization experiences. This study examined the tenuous position of individuals who identify as both religious and LGBTQ to understand how they negotiate these often conflicting identities while engaged in religious and LGBTQ organizations.
Researchers utilized multiple methods for this qualitative study. They conducted in-depth interviews (n = 16) with LGBTQ individuals to understand their involvement in LGBTQ and religious organizations. Participants were predominantly White (n = 13), female (n = 9), and between 18-49 years of age. Religious identification included Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian, Atheist, and Agnostic. Researchers conducted 40 hours of participant observation at two sites: a campus LGBTQ Resource Center and a small LGBTQ community center. Additionally, two focus groups were conducted with LGBTQ organizational leaders (n = 6) to better understand the barriers to involvement for individuals with intersecting LGBTQ and religious identities. Data were analyzed and coded using grounded theory and NVivo qualitative analysis software. Researchers used member checking, peer debriefing, and multiple data analysts to ensure the trustworthiness of the data collection and analysis.
Data analyses revealed that religious LGBTQ participants experienced anti-religious sentiment within LGBTQ organizations and an unwelcoming environment for LGBTQ people within religious groups. Participants responded to these respective group environments by engaging in intergroup identity-negotiation behavior. Negotiation mechanisms included: 1) identity management—to relate with group members, religious LGBTQ participants manifested one identity more strongly depending on the salient group context; 2) finding congruence—religious LGBTQ individuals sought alignment in their spiritual, professional, and personal lives by seeking out organizations and groups that were openly welcome to people with both LGBTQ and religious identities.
Conclusions and Implications:
These results have implications for practice, theory, and research. LGBTQ organizations should promote involvement among those with intersecting LGBTQ and religious identities by creating an atmosphere affirming of both sexual and religious identities. Additionally, the significance of religious identity identified by participants indicates the need for continued bridge-building between religious and LGBTQ communities. Intergroup identity negotiation behavior bears similarity to relational self theory (Anderson & Chen, 2002) in its focus on the salience of context in individual interpersonal relations with significant others. Nonetheless, it is distinct from it because of its emphasis on intergroup dynamics. Based on these findings, future studies should examine how community organizations negotiate multiple and competing identities among their constituency. Due to rapidly changing public opinions toward the LGBTQ community a knowledge base addressing myriad types of intersecting LGBTQ identities (e.g. nationality, race) is expressly relevant and urgently needed.