Abstract: Advancing Inclusion in Survey Research with 2SLGBTQ+ University Students: Measuring Sexual Identity and Gender Identity (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Advancing Inclusion in Survey Research with 2SLGBTQ+ University Students: Measuring Sexual Identity and Gender Identity

Friday, January 13, 2023
Maryvale A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Woodford, PhD, Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, ON, Canada
Simon Coulombe, PhD, Professeur agrégé, Université Laval, Quebec City, QC, Canada
Zack Marshall, PhD, Assistant Professor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Background and Purpose: Growing attention has been given to accurately and inclusively measuring sexual orientation/identity and gender identity in large-scale general population surveys. These measures do not capture the diversity of 2SLGBTQ+ identities, including newer/emerging identities and fail to acknowledge that some individuals identify with multiple identities. Some 2SLGBTQ+ surveys address these issues through open-ended questions, while others include an array of identity-options, including write-in options, and invite participants to select multiple identities/options. While inclusive, categorizing responses to open-ended questions can be challenging in large samples as is handling “select-all-that-apply” responses given the possible diversity of responses across individuals. Solutions to these issues must be robust and acceptable to the community.

This paper reports on the development and testing of survey measures involving participatory steps designed to robustly and inclusively assess sexual identity (SI) and gender identity (SI) among 2SLGBTQ+ university students.

Methods: After reviewing existing measures, we developed two-step questions for each construct. Question 1 listed multiple options and invited participants to select “all that apply.” Question 2, only asked of those who selected multiple identities/options, invited participants to select the option best reflecting their identity. We then conferred with consulting researchers, 2SLGBTQ+ student affairs staff, 2SLGBTQ+ students (3 focus groups, N=16; 9 trans, 5 POC) and revised and piloted the questions (in preparation for an Ontario-wide 2SLGBTQ+ campus climate study) with a convenience sample of 2SLGBTQ+ students attending universities in Canada outside of Ontario (N=380, 42.9% trans, 18.9% POC, 22.4% disabled). Those who received the two questions were asked to provide feedback about this approach via 4-questions (1=strongly disagree, 3=neither disagree/agree, 5=strongly agree). Participants were recruited via social media and 2SLGBTQ+ organizations/groups and each received $10 e-card.

Results: Feedback from researchers, staff, and students unanimously supported the two-question approach. Specific feedback included adding other identity options (final measures: SI 13 options; GI 15 options) and clarifying the wording for question 2. The final wording acknowledged that people use multiple terms to describe their SI/GI, explained that it might be impossible to include all unique combinations in data analysis, and asked participants to select the option that best describes their identity.

In the pilot study, 206 and 129 participants, respectively, selected multiple options for SI and GI, and then selected the option that “best” describes their SI/GI. Feedback on the two-question approach was supportive overall based on the 4-follow-up questions, including two negatively word items: Important to give the option to select multiple identities (SI M=4.60[SD=0.81]; GI M=4.57[SD=0.80]); Two-question approach felt inclusive (SI M=3.87[SD=1.24]; GI M=3.74[SD=1.29]); Two questions felt unnecessary (SI M=2.26[SD=1.31]; GI M=2.60[SD=1.33]); Would feel included if only asked one question for the BEST option reflecting identity (SI M=2.79[SD=1.30]; GI M=2.67[SD=1.28]). Significant differences were not found between trans and cisgender participants.

Conclusions and Implications: These measures are inclusive, user-friendly, and effective tools to assess SI and GI. They acknowledge the diversity of 2SLGBTQ+ students and address the analytical challenges associated with “select-all-that-apply” approaches. Future research should examine their use among other 2SLGBTQ+ populations.