Excluded from “Inclusive” Communities: LGBTQ Youths’ Perception of “Their” Community
Background and purpose:
Many young LGBTQ people are encouraged to seek support in the LGBTQ community, by both researchers and social service providers. The ultimate goal of finding a supportive community is to foster within youth a sense of belonging. The experience of belonging is associated with decreased risks of suicide, drug abuse, and depression. Implicit in this framework is the assumption all LGBTQ young people will be accepted within the community. However, the LGBTQ community is may be often less inclusive than assumed, in part because of the blending of issues around sexuality and gender. This paper is part of a larger phenomenological study that asked participants about their experiences of bullying and how they were able to cope with their experiences. In this paper, we explore the participants’ narratives regarding the exclusionary and inclusionary aspects of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ young adults aged 18-29 were recruited through LGBTQ service agencies, LGBTQ publication advertising and through social media in a Midwestern state for individual interviews regarding their experiences of bullying. Additional participants were found through snowball sampling. Twenty-four young adults of multiple gender and sexual identities participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews that were audio-recorded. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed for themes. For the purpose of this study, we explored the participant narratives related to negotiating their identities within the LGBTQ community, which frequently emerged in answers to the questions: “How did you deal with being bullied?” and “Where did you go for support?”
Although a majority of the youth reported their connections to the LGBTQ community as helpful in terms of coping with the bullying they experienced, several described experiences such as “not being gay enough,” or “feeling like I don’t belong.” Some youth reported disappointment in finding the LGBTQ community to be exclusionary when they expected it to be inclusive. Additionally, youths’ identity development and sense of belonging appear to be moderated by many factors, such as race, socio-economic status, and gender presentation. Further, these exclusionary and inclusionary aspects are not often discussed within the LGBTQ community.
Conclusions and implications:
Although some youth feel a sense of belonging to the LGBTQ community, some youth do not feel a sense of belonging. In terms of resilience, for youth feeling excluded from a community that they hoped would be inclusive may be detrimental to their well-being, as they will need to work harder to find the supports they need to thrive. Results from this study indicate that clinicians working with LGBTQ young people need to have an understanding of the communities in which they make referrals and adequately prepare youth for the need to find communities that “fit.”