Abstract: Resilience Among LGBTQ+ Grassroots Activists (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Resilience Among LGBTQ+ Grassroots Activists

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Travis Scheadler, MS, MSW/PhD Student, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Katherine Haus, MS, PhD Student, Indiana University, IN
Kristen Mark, PhD, Joycelyn Endowed Chair in Sexual Health Education, University of Minnesota Medical School, MN
Background and Purpose: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other gender and sexual minority (LGBTQ+) individuals have a long history of mobilizing to raise awareness and initiate social and political change for LGBTQ+ related issues. While this has led to a surge of research in coping strategies and resilience of LGBTQ+ individuals and communities, little research has examined the connection between activism and resilience in LGBTQ+ activists. Early research suggests activism may facilitate resilience within this population. The purpose of the present study was to explore the contextual nature of the link between resilience and activism among LGBTQ+ grassroots activists.

Methods: In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 LGBTQ+ activists (ages 18 to 30) from a statewide grassroots organization that aims to ban conversion therapy. Participants identified as cismen (n = 6), ciswomen (n = 4), non-binary (n = 4), and one identified as a transman. Most identified as gay or lesbian (n = 8) while five identified as queer, one as bisexual, and one as both gay and queer. Interviews explored participants’ history of LGBTQ+ activism, outness, and resilience. Grounded theory was used to uncover the processes connecting resilience with activism through initial, focused, axial, and theoretical coding. Memo writing, negative case analysis, member checking, and the use of two coders were used to strengthen the trustworthiness of the findings.

Results: The central theme identified in the data was that outness, activism, and resilience have cyclic relationships. Being out inspired participants to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and connected them with other LGBTQ+ people. Activism encouraged participants to be even more authentic and connected them with other LGBTQ+ activists. Resilience was needed to withstand the pressures of activism. Being authentic and fighting for one’s rights strengthened their resilience. Subthemes were generated within the central theme. By being in a group of LGBTQ+ activists, participants described feeling a sense of safety and belonging, allowing them to continue to explore and affirm their own identities. Being involved in a group also made participants feel like they were a part of something larger than themselves and had a responsibility to positively represent the movement. LGBTQ+ activists also discussed several positive features of activism that boosted their resilience including increased agency, hope, flexibility, confidence, and emotional regulation as well as decreased fear. They also mentioned activism brings harmony to their values and allows them to cope with past trauma. Social support was also a strong factor. When social support was inexistent or minimal from their family, they turned to their friends. Finally, many participants recognized that activism is not always positive; it can be stressful or even dangerous for some LGBTQ+ people.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest grassroots activism can boost resilience and belonging through a cyclic relationship. LGBTQ+ grassroots and community leaders could use these data to inform structure and strategies to enhance organization efficacy and well-being of their members. LGBTQ+ individuals looking to boost resilience and sense of belonging may benefit from engaging in grassroots activism.