The Role of Sexual Orientation in Youth Development Theory



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Existing research on LBGTQ youth has focused on problem behaviors and considerably less attention has been devoted to positive developmental processes. However, positive youth development knowledge is critical to enabling researchers and practitioners to conduct work that might facilitate a successful transition to adulthood. Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore the transition to adulthood among LBGTQ youth. Data were generated through ethnographic techniques at an organized leisure program designed to serve LBGTQ youth and their heterosexual allies.

Thematic analysis yielded three manuscripts designed for journal submission. Results of the first study enhanced understanding of the similarities and differences between queer and heterosexual development. In particular, findings indicated that traditional assumptions about markers of success and developmental assets were highly relevant to most participants. The key difference between queer and heterosexual development was that LBGTQ populations must contend with compulsory heterosexuality or the network of normative expectations and sanctions which compel individuals to be heterosexual. For instance, participants shared how they hid their sexuality often for years to avoid being labeled as different or facing harassment.

I explored resistance and oppression in the leisure experiences of LBGTQ youth in the second study to further expand understanding of positive developmental processes among queer young people. Results indicated that participants resisted oppression in several ways, including creating spaces that preserved their autonomy. Others deconstructed the privilege in their lives, which enhanced their understanding of how their actions intersect with the oppression of others.

In the third study, I explored features of positive developmental settings for LBGTQ youth to explore how leisure contexts might facilitate the transition to adulthood for queer youth. Two features emerged as particularly relevant: support for efficacy and mattering and integration of school, family, and community efforts. Results indicated that staff promoted social norms that respected the capabilities of all people. Further, the integration of program activities within the broader queer community led to important successes related to celebrating the heterogeneity of queer and promoting communion. I hope these manuscripts will enhance the capacity of leisure professionals to work with LBGTQ youth.