Date of Award

12-15-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Angie Moe

Second Advisor

Dr. Susan Freeman

Third Advisor

Dr. Ann Miles

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Frederick MacDonald

Abstract

Many young LGBTQ people are experiencing bullying which can lead to increased risk of suicide, drug abuse, and depression, as well as an increased risk of out-of-home placements in either foster care or homeless shelters. As a result of this, LGBTQ young adults are often framed as being at risk. Although this has been helpful in the past in order to raise awareness of the challenges experienced by LGBTQ young people, there is also evidence that they show resilience in response to those challenges. In order to advance the social work value of being strengths-based, this research looked for examples of resilience in the lives of these young people. Research was undertaken to determine what types of bullying these young people have experienced, how the bullying impacted them, and how they were able to cope with the bullying they experienced.

LGBTQ young adults aged 18-29 were recruited through LGBTQ service agencies, LGBTQ publication advertising and through social media in southern Michigan for individual interviews regarding their experiences of bullying. Additional participants were found through snowball sampling. Twenty-four young adults of multiple gender and sexual identities participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews that were audio-recorded. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed for themes.

Much of the bullying described by participants is consistent with the school climate data collected by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. In addition, several participants reported physical assaults, as well as sexual assaults on or near school property. One unanticipated finding was that several of the respondents (9/24, or 37.5%) identified that their worst bullying had come from their parents, who objected to their children’s identities based upon their religious beliefs. Although research exists which addresses family acceptance or rejection, it is not normally found in bullying literature. Surprisingly, the participants in this research identified that they continue to be bullied beyond their school years, as young adults, suggesting that conceptions of bullying may need to be adjusted to include years beyond school. The second major finding was that many of the participants identified that they had grown from having been bullied, and they showed signs of having experienced post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a psychological concept that has not been studied much in social work to date. PTG explains the resilience shown by the LGBTQ young adults in this study.

From this work, four major themes have been revealed. The first is that resilience is an important component to the success of these participants. Second, the importance of supportive relationships emerges from the narratives of these young adults, in terms of helping them survive and thrive. The third theme is the precarity of safety in the lives of these participants. The world in which they live is frequently unsafe for them because of the limited public understanding of sexual and gender minorities. They are at risk not because of who they are, but because of cultural messages about what their identities mean in society. Finally, in spite of the hostile climate in which they live, these participants have shown posttraumatic growth.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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