Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with LGBTQ+ youth (n=11) living in rural communities in the Southeastern US. Participants were recruited through agency social media sites, fliers, and word-of-mouth. Interviews elicited participants’ narratives regarding their LGBTQ+ identity, victimization experiences, and social supports in varying contexts (e.g., family, school, community). Data were analyzed using a narrative approach in NVivo12. Three independent coders conducted open and axial coding leading to thematic analysis.
Results: Participants identified experiences within the family, peer, and community contexts as primary influences on their well-being. Having close connections to LGBTQ+ peers, supportive family, and accessing the internet were commonly expressed as important social support, especially when facing adversity in the form of microaggressions, bullying, and threats to physical safety. These experiences were captured under five major themes: 1) relationships that strengthen sense of self; 2) social conditions that affirm/negate identity; 3) experiences of bullying and victimization; 4) platforms for exploring identity; and 5) expressions of individual and community resilience in the rural context.
Conclusions and Implications:
This research sought to understand rural LGBTQ+ youth experiences to determine if and how their experiences with victimization and social support differ from their non-rural LGBTQ+ peers. Findings indicate that rural LGBTQ+ youth do encounter challenges specific to their rural context, namely that they have less access to supportive resources, especially to the broader LGBTQ+ community, and heavily rely on the internet to meet many of their needs. However, youth described points of support and challenge within each context, especially among family, suggesting that viewing a context as supportive or non-supportive does not accurately capture the full range of experiences for youth navigating their LGBTQ+ identities in rural communities.