Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other sexualities (LGBTQIA+) populations are marginalized in different contexts, including research environments. The risk of harm posed to research participants might be even higher in studies involving LGBTQIA youth, due to their devalued position in society. Despite the ethical imperative of protecting research participants from harm, there is a lack of discussion about the ethical standards for research involving this particular group.
This paper presentation will provide an analysis of the ethical challenges faced by the team members of Audre, a research project focusing on the needs and experiences of LGBTQIA+ youth in out-of-home care in the Netherlands. A central objective of this project was to prevent individual harm and further stigmatization of the communities studied, but also to empower research participants, help them build social resilience, and knit solidarity networks.
The Audre project was conducted by a group of people (care-experienced young people, students, practitioners, and researchers) across the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression brought together by a moral commitment to advancing social equity through conducting and disseminating ethically rigorous research.
Thirteen young people were interviewed for this project. We used a qualitative research design with a reflexive, flexible, and participatory approach. We performed a reflexive thematic analysis that allowed us to detect recurring themes illustrative of how they made sense of their experiences and needs prior to, during, and after care. The potential of the interviews to harm emotionally the young people interviewed was carefully considered.
Two expert groups of LGBTQIA+ people and allies were established at the beginning of the project. They played a key role in the project’s ethical standards by advising on recruitment, interview questions, and checking for sensitive issues and language use. During the duration of the project, we came together often to discuss the research process and reflect on the lessons learned with it.
The presentation will illustrate the ethical challenges of designing and conducting the Audre project. We will discuss ethical approaches to recruitment, participant autonomy, confidentiality, safety during and after the interview, issues of researcher over-involvement, cultural competence regarding the populations under study, researcher’s reflexivity, and the scientific dissemination process, among other topics. Issues of caring within the research team will be discussed from a lens of ethics of care. These themes emerge from an ongoing critical reflective process about the micro and macro ethics of conducting research with LGBTQIA youth, involving a group of care-experienced people, practitioners, researchers, and collaborators of the Audre project over a period of 5 years. This process has also allowed us to gain a better insight into the participants’ benefits of being part of this study, such as increasing knowledge on the topic, gaining empowerment and social support, breaking the silence, and reducing stigma.
Conclusions and Implications
Researchers need to take additional measures to protect research participants from harm or distress when conducting studies with LGBTQIA youth. Responsible research practices might also contribute to beneficial effects for research participants.