Abstract: Intechgration: Sexuality and Gender Minority Emerging Adult Migrants Social Media and Integration Experiences in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Intechgration: Sexuality and Gender Minority Emerging Adult Migrants Social Media and Integration Experiences in the United States

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Shannon Cheung, BA, PhD Student, Rutgers University, NJ
Edward Alessi, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Roxanna Ast, MSW, MSc, Graduate Research Assistant, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Brett Greenfield, MSW/MDiv, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Vincent Sarna, BSc, MSW Student, Loyola University, Chicago, IL
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Andrew Eaton, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Regina, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Background and Purpose: Approximately 42% of the 1.25 million foreign-born sexual and gender minority (SGM) adults in the United States (U.S.) are between the ages of 18 and 29 (Goldberg & Conron, 2021). SGM migrants face significant challenges in creating meaningful social connections during resettlement due to intersecting stigmas such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia (Alessi & Kahn, 2017). However, research has shown that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can facilitate newcomer integration (Alencar, 2018), which may be important for emerging adult SGM (EASGM) migrants who are typically digitally connected. Given that many SGM migrants in the U.S. are emerging adults, this study explored how migration processes shape this critical developmental period for EASGM migrants, as well as how ICTs facilitate their integration.

Methods: From October 2020 to March 2021, we conducted semi-structured 1-2 hour interviews with SGM migrants (N=38) between the ages of 18-25 (M=23.5) via web conferencing. Participants migrated from 14 countries to various U.S. states within the past five years. 20 had secure immigration status (i.e., able to live permanently in the U.S.), while 16 had insecure status and two did not provide their status. 23 participants were gay, 11 were bisexual, 10 were transgender, two were lesbian, and two were queer. Interviews occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, with most participants engaging in interviews with their videos off due to Internet connectivity problems and concerns about privacy. Interviewers identifying as SGM individuals themselves asked participants about their ICT use and resettlement experiences. Data were analyzed using constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006). To enhance rigor, we used multiple coders; engaged in peer debriefings; searched for evidence that disconfirmed themes; and kept an audit trail.

Results: We identified 4 preliminary themes: using social media in country of origin; using social media to find friends and resources in the host country; doing what you need to do in the host country; and continued identity management on social media. For many, unsafe social conditions in their countries of origin permeated digital spaces, though these spaces simultaneously provided important information about the migration process. In the U.S., most participants independently navigated complex government institutions and processes while attempting to secure housing, employment, and healthcare. Some were forced to work without proper compensation or endure chronic injuries due to lacking health insurance. Despite feeling greater freedom, participants continued to use identity management strategies in digital spaces (e.g., controlling post visibility or limiting engagement).

Conclusions and Implications: EASGM migrants relied heavily on ICT-mediated connections to integrate into the U.S. Service providers may expand the reach of services by offering them virtually beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to improve access for SGM migrants who do not live in urban areas. Social workers must also pay attention to the developmental challenges of migration during emerging adulthood and ensure EASGM migrants have the external supports to deal with such challenges. Meanwhile, further research exploring how best to conduct technology-mediated qualitative research with this population is required given its unique challenges that could prevent engagement in web-based interviews.