Bullying victimization remains pervasive among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) young people. Bullying is manifested at multiple levels of LGBTQ+ youths’ social ecology, with limited evidence indicating differential experiences of bullying by gender, gender identity, race/ethnicity, and disability. Qualitative research can be especially useful in exploring contextualized and intersectional experiences and responses to bullying with diverse young people. To this end, we examined the population focus and methods employed in qualitative research on LGBTQ+ bullying victimization. Our research questions were 1) what is the socio-demographic representation of participants in research on LGBTQ+ bullying victimization?; 2) what methodologies and methods (i.e., sampling, recruitment, data collection, data analysis) are used?; and 3) what procedures are used to support methodological rigor?
We conducted a methodological scoping review following Cochrane guidelines and PRISMA reporting requirements. We developed search terms and searched 10 social science databases. Results were screened in two stages based on a priori inclusion criteria and interrater reliability >90%. Inclusion criteria were: peer-reviewed articles; published after January 1, 2005; English-language; focus on bullying of LGBTQ+ youth; from youth perspectives (i.e., not professionals, or adult recollections). We extracted information on study characteristics, participants, and study design, sampling, recruitment, data collection, and analysis.
A total of 1,579 abstracts were identified and screened, with 141 articles retained for full-text screening. Thirty-six full-text articles were included in the review, with most (58%, n=21) published since 2015. Most studies were conducted in the U.S. (n=15), UK (n=9), and South Africa (n=6). Participants (n=884) predominantly identified as gay (38%), followed by lesbian (14%), bisexual (13%), heterosexual (9%), queer/questioning/pansexual (8%). The majority identified as cisgender men (51%), followed by cisgender women (26%), transmasculine (6%)/transgender woman (4%)/transgender (3%), genderqueer/other (5%). In 21 studies (n=446) reporting race/ethnicity, 50% of participants identified as white, 26% Black/African American, 8% Latinx, 6% Asian, 1% Indigenous/Native American, 9% multiracial. Twenty studies included some adolescents under age 18, 3 focused on this population. One study reported disability status.
Among 24 studies reporting methodology, grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology were most prevalent. Convenience/snowball sampling was predominant. Twenty-eight studies conducted individual interviews, 6 focus groups. In 8 studies, researchers reported disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Four studies provided opportunities for member checking.
Conclusions and Implications:
This methodological review of qualitative studies of LGBTQ+ bullying victimization reveals participants to be predominantly white, cisgender male, gay, urban, from the U.S. Omission of race/ethnicity exacerbates approaches to race as “heterosexualized” and sexuality as “race-less" (i.e., white), limiting intersectional analysis. Recommendations include a) greater use of purposive, quota or maximum variation sampling to increase diversity by race/ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability status; b) expanding online recruitment and data collection to broaden participation; c) more rigorous collection and reporting of demographic data; d) describing strategic use or not of researcher self-disclosure; e) expanding the diversity of researchers and trainees who conduct research with LGBTQ+ communities; and e) working with research ethics boards to waive parental consent requirements to increase participation by LGBTIQ+ minors.