Sexual Minority Youth Resilience
Sexual minority youth live in a world where heterosexuality is the dominant sexual orientation. When heterosexual identities are defined as ‘‘normal,’’ and recognized as the only acceptable sexual orientation, those that identify as ‘‘other’’ are made invisible, and may be viewed as deviant or unnatural, with the prospect of being targeted for outright violence. Whether or not they experience violence directly, the threat of violence serves to keep many individuals from acknowledging their sexual identities (Andersen, 2007). As Mason (1997) states, ‘‘Indeed there is little doubt that one of the wider social effects of heterosexual hostility is reinforcement of an already pervasive tendency among lesbians and gay men to ‘stay in the closet’ or ‘pass’ as heterosexual’’ (p. 27). This constant reminder of being ‘‘other’’ not only perpetuates the invisibility of GLBT youth, but makes for an increasingly unsafe social world. (Wexler, DiFluvio & Burke (2009). Resilience and marginalized youth: Making a case for personal and collective meaning-making as part of resilience research in public health, Social Science & Medicine 69 (2009) 565–570).
Unlike other marginalized groups, the identity of a sexual minority youth is not ascribed at birth. The formation of individual or collective identity therefore can be seen as a process of ‘‘becoming’’ rather than one of ‘‘being’’ (Phelan, 1993). Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender often do not have family members or friends who represent ‘‘queer culture’’ (Garnets and D’Augelli, 1994). Negotiating the self without access to others who share similar constructions of identity is often an isolating experience. For this reason, connection to a larger social group with shared experiences is particularly important. (Wexler, DiFluvio & Burke (2009). Resilience and marginalized youth: Making a case for personal and collective meaning-making as part of resilience research in public health, Social Science & Medicine 69 (2009) 565–570).
In the study of sexual minority youth resilience, it is important to consider the ways in which young people understand their violent and victimizing experiences as manifested in homophobia (DiFulvio, 2004). In a study on contextualizing risk and resilience among sexual minority youth, DiFulvio (2004) found that participants discussed negotiating their sense of self within an antagonistic social world that denies rights and opportunities to its members. For sexual minority youth, there is a constant negotiation of ‘‘self as different’’ in relation to the larger culture. To come out to friends, family or to people in new encounters requires reinforcing a status as ‘‘other’’ than heterosexual such that youth often feel marginalized and disconnected, and may ultimately feel a sense of isolation so powerful as to be devastating. (Wexler, DiFluvio & Burke (2009). Resilience and marginalized youth: Making a case for personal and collective meaning-making as part of resilience research in public health, Social Science & Medicine 69 (2009) 565–570).
IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.
Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at www.iinii.org, or contact us at email@example.com or 1800-507-2502.