Reviewed by Timothy Ward
Identity Safety and Relational Health in
Youth Spaces: A Needs Assessment with LGBTQ Youth of Color
Kristi E. Gamarela , Ja’Nina J. Walkerb , Lillian Riverac & Sarit A. Goluba
This study focused on the role that LGBT Youth Organizations play in helping young people develop a sense of communal identity and how this sense of inclusion or the lack thereof contributes to their overall health. The research was conducted at an LGBT Youth Organization which had after-school programs that specifically catered to LGBT youth of color.
There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that LGBT youth of color are more likely to have poor health physically and mentally than there straight or even white LGBT counterparts. The study explains that because LGBT youth of color not only face the negative stigma of their sexual orientation, but also face the challenges of being a minority makes young people of this demographic far more susceptible to disease and mental health issues. The cause of this, is a series of factors that include an overall lack of education and understanding about safe sex practices and access to resources that give these young people the tools to negotiate their situation. Thus this study examines how LGBT Youth Organizations function to promote both mental and physical health for young people among the LGBT communities.
Specifically the study searched for themes by interviewing several of the youth that were associated with the organization. Though personal interviews and a series of focus groups the study found two major themes that emerged, “Home” and a sense of “We.” One of the activities that the study asked was for young people to draw, using images, words, and symbols, what the organization meant to them. This helped to develop questions that could better understand the different experiences that each participant had with that organization.
What they found was of the twelve participants eleven of them explained that the organization was like family and that the space of the organization felt like home. This was significant given that ten out of the same twelve reported that they felt a stronger sense of home at the organization than where they currently resided. The next theme that emerged was the sense of “We” which was also reflected in the focus groups. Many of the participants vocalized the overwhelming blessing it was that such an organization existed that allowed them to express themselves without recourse or consequence. The fact the organization allowed these young people to be themselves in a safe environment that championed acceptance and dialogue to resolve differences was critical in order to this sense of “We” to emerge.
This study demonstrates the inherent need we all have to belong and the danger when we have no such community. The importance of finding a group that is accepting, edifying, and inspiring needs to be shouted from every roof top, but never more so then those in our society who are most vulnerable. This is why organizations that give young people the tools, time, and tenacity to face a world that is not quite accepting of them, is something in which we all need to be greater advocates.