The mission of Children, Youth and Environments (CYE) network is to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and stimulate discussion in support of inclusive and sustainable environments for children and youth everywhere.
CYE pursues this mission through the dissemination of numerous resources, an online forum for active discussion and publication of a peer-reviewed online journal that offers researchers a high-quality, refereed outlet for sharing their work and learning about new studies in the field.
Children, Youth and Environments Featured Article: Narratives from the Closet: Stories of LGBTQIAP+ Youth vol. 30 issue 1 2020
by Ann Rossmiller
i am me. i am loved as me. i didn’t need much.
i just wanted someone to look me in the eye and say “you’re okay”
These final lines of the opening poem send a powerful message about the experiences of LGBTQIAP+ youth and their desire to be accepted. The poem in its full 11 stanza form was constructed based on the stories, or narratives, of “youth who live outside of the normative structures of sexuality” and sheds light on the commonalities of their experiences. Through personal accounts noted in scholarly articles, books, Tumblr blog posts, and YouTube videos, Dr. Karen Myers and Dr. Katherine Evans sought to answer how LGBTQIAP+ youth narrate their own stories.
And though the research study itself is impressive with notable findings, it is the way Myers and Evans construct the article and embed the stories of LGBTQIAP+ youth throughout that leave a lasting impact on its readers. As you read through the stories of youth like Justin Lee, Zander Mahaffey, and Chely Wright, glimpses of the opening poem stand out and you are continuously reminded of the shared, yet complex, experiences LGBTQIAP+ youth face.
We invited the authors, Dr. Karen Myers and Dr. Kathy Evans, to discuss their work with us in greater detail to learn more about what writing this article entailed. Additionally, the Children, Youth and Environments team encourages everyone to read “Narratives from the Closet: Stories of LGBTQIAP+ Youth” in CYE volume 30 issue 1 and reflect on ways each and every one of us can better support the positive development of LGBTQIAP+ youth. In order to make this information more universally available, and in honor of Pride 2020, this article will be open access and free to the public until July 28, 2020.
Please tell us about your academic/personal journey. What lead you to conduct this research?
Dr. Karen Myers: I received a joint JD/MSW from New York University in the late 1990s and worked for several years as a lawyer with foster care youth, many of whom identified as LGBTQIAP+. I then became a school social worker where I continued to cross paths with young people who identified as LGBTQIAP+ and were often struggling in their school environments as a result of that identity. Even though we were separated in age by many years, their struggles reminded me of my own struggles when I was coming out as a lesbian. As I transitioned into academia as a professor of social work in 2014, I wanted my research and writing to make a difference. I did not want to put just anything out there in order to gain tenure; it was important for me to believe in what I researched and published. This article is a result of that desire and strives to identify the challenges and resilience of LGBTQIAP+ youth in the hopes that others can learn from their stories and support their growth and development honoring the freedom all young people should have to be themselves.
Dr. Katherine Evans: My graduate program focused on qualitative research, with a strong emphasis on dialogue, understanding the other, and seeking to listen deeply to the perspectives and stories of those whose experiences we were seeking to research. There was a commitment, in particular, to lifting up the narratives of those that have been historically silenced. My academic research has sought to do this. Karen and I connected around this commitment; we had so many conversations about sexuality and gender. This study originated with Karen’s ongoing work and our shared desire as to amplify the voices of LGBTQIAP+ youth.
Your article, “Narratives from the Closet: Stories of LGBTQIAP+ Youth”, opens with a powerful poem representing the narratives of LGBTQIAP+ youth based on the stories you analyzed. What made you decide to use a poem over other creative mediums? Additionally, how was the poem created, what was that process like?
KM: I wish I could paint but I can’t so a poem seemed a creative medium I could utilize to weave together voices of the youth we heard in our research. Poetry felt like a way to capture multiple voices enhancing the understanding of LGBTQIAP+ youth’s lived experiences. Kathy and I had both used this creative medium before so we wrote the poem together suggesting lines and building off of each other as we looked through our data.
KE: I had done another study in grad school where we took actual dialogue from interviews and from our own anecdotal conversations and created a four stanza poem related to inequities in school discipline practices. I had been powerfully impacted by even the process of constructing that poem and had been influenced by the work of Madison, Bell, Lester, and Gabriel who all integrated poetics and other artistic forms of data analysis and representation into their research. Karen and I were sitting at a kitchen table going through each of the data sets and really wanting to ensure that readers felt the weight of the youth represented in our research. We wanted to push against their reading being a simple academic exercise. So we decided to write a poem. It was such a generative experience, where once we started, we just didn’t quit until we had finished. We were both moved by the process and hope that readers feel the import of the stories in the piece.
How did you decide on the use of narratives from online and print sources over methods such as focus groups?
KM: Our goal in using narratives from online and print sources was to organically capture what young people were saying about their experiences on their own terms in their own venues rather in an environment where they were responding to questions asked by a facilitator of a focus group. There is nothing wrong with that kind of research but it is more directed than what we were hoping to find with these online and print sources.
KE: Oh, my. This was Karen’s idea, but I’m so grateful. You know, these websites, youtube channels, etc. contain so many very important stories that often go unnoticed, unheard, unacknowledged by straight folks. If you don’t identify as LGBTQIAP+, you might not be following Corey Maison’s youtube channel; you might never stumble upon Zander Mahaffey’s tumblr feed; you might miss reading the memoir of Katie Hill recounting their experience at youth camp. And yet those stories deserve to be heard; they NEED to be heard by straight folks. A focus group won’t amplify these voices in the way we wanted them to be.
Do you think this article is timely? And if so, can you share why it is important, more so than ever, for environments where LGTBQIAP+ youth live, learn, and play to be supportive?
KM: Oh it feels SO VERY timely. Look at our country. Look at our world. There is so much hate and oppression and vulnerability that hinders LGBTQIAP+ youth from living, learning, and playing to their fullest potential. ALL young people deserve the ability to do this and we are deeply saddened by the homophobia and transphobia as well as racism and sexism and xenophobia that stand in their way. If reading this article makes one person find ways to be more supportive of an LGBTQIAP+ young person then I feel like it has had an impact. I’d love that to be much broader but even one is more than none.
KE: I do think it’s timely. And I think it’s past time. As a white woman who identifies as queer, I know I have been silent for too long. It’s difficult to step up and claim your own truth when you know it might impact your family, your career, or your well-being. If it’s difficult for me, a successful, privileged, and accepted professor, imagine how difficult it is for our youth. Imagine the courage it took for Kenneth “Rodney” Weishuhn, Jr. to come out as gay – and then to be bullied to the point where he took his own life. And while we would love to assume that things have gotten better since 2012, they haven’t for many youth. So far, in 2020, at least 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people have lost their lives to violence. LGBTQIAP+ youth are still bullied; transgender youth still can’t use a bathroom that corresponds to their identity. I mean the statistics are dismal. And while we are grateful for the recent supreme court decision, there is still so much work to do to ensure that LGBTQIAP+ youth are loved and valued for who they are.
Now that this article is published, how do you plan on continuing with this work?
KM: I would like to continue this research and broaden it. I believe in the power of stories and there are so many stories out there that we did not capture in this article. I also teach an LGBTQIAP+ elective at my university where I use the lens of cultural humility to have students look closely at the stories from members of the LGBTQIAP+ community. There are so many wonderful memoirs and documentaries to draw from for that class which to me are as important as the concepts and theories we discuss as well.
KE: My work revolves around restorative justice as it is understood and applied in educational settings. Restorative justice is grounded on an assumption that every human being has value and worth and deserves to be treated with respect, dignity, and mutual concern. I’m going to keep spreading that message in every space I can – in the courses I teach, in the things I write, and in the research and writing that I do. Finding ways to tap into people’s hearts, not just their intellect, is an important part of that work for me.
Is there anything else you would wish to share with CYE readers?
KM: If reading this article inspires you, please find ways to be supportive of LGBTQIAP+ youth in the environment in which you encounter them. Sometimes the smallest steps make a big difference. When I was struggling with my own identity, I gained so much strength and the will to carry on from seeing signs of support, something as simple as a rainbow flag or a safe zone sticker or a book about someone who was like me.
KE: Now that you know about these stories that are often hidden below the surface, I would encourage readers to find the memoirs and the youtube channels and the tumblr feeds and read the countless other stories of youth who are bravely telling their stories. Look up the references that we cite and find those stories; they will lead you to so many stories beyond those represented in this research. Our youth are powerful; they have so to offer this world. They are wise beyond their years. We can learn a lot from them – not just about LGBTQIAP+ issues, but about resilience and strength and love and courage.
Ann Rossmiller is the editorial assistant for Children, Youth and Environments. In addition to her work with the journal, she is a doctoral candidate in the educational studies program at the University of Cincinnati. Here, her work focuses on the impact of young children’s nature experiences on later proenvironmental behavior, conservation education for children & youth through nonformal education environments, positive youth development through proenvironmental action, & equity issues in environmental education.