Title: Social risk and protective factors facing sexual minority youth Keywords: sexual-minority, family acceptance, peer harassment, school achievement, LGB Background: Family environment plays a critical role in the lives of adolescents because family members provide framework for adjustment, learning, and socialization. However, sexualminority youth typically experience poor relationships with their family. Family rejection in response to the disclosure of one’s sexual orientation leads to increased violence at home (Tharinger & Wells, 2000) and has been associated with health risks (Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009). Conversely, positive adolescent-family relations function as a protective buffer against peer harassment for some youth (Aceves & Cookston, 2007). However, the links between experiences at home (e.g., family rejection and acceptance), adolescent’s experiences at school (e.g., peer harassment, perceived school climate, etc.) and the effects on educational achievement for sexual-minority youth are unexplored. Theoretical Framework: This research is informed by both Meyer’s (2003) Minority Stress Model (MSM) and Garciá Coll’s (1996) Culturally Different Model (CDM). The MSM posits that negative outcomes for LGB youth can be attributed to the stresses they encounter, ascribed to internalized homophobia and stigma. The CDM is an integrative approach to the experiences of minority groups. I am interested in applying these frameworks to discover how parental acceptance can buffer the negative reactions to LGB stigma. Current Proposal: I propose two studies to examine the contextual influences of parenting and parental acceptance on adolescents’ adjustment in schools using longitudinal methods. First, for my master’s thesis, I will use the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (AddHealth) dataset to explore whether for sexual-minority youth the perceived quality of the relationship with parents predicts educational achievement later in life (controlling for earlier educational performance). Using Add-Health data, scholars have previously examined associations between perceptions of parental quality and mental health outcomes (Needham & Austin, 2010) and self-reported performance in school (Pearson, Muller, & Wilkinson, 2007) for sexual-minority youth. However, no studies have examined the effects of parenting on the trajectories of educational achievement post-high school graduation. I hypothesize that a lack of perceived support from parents will predict poorer educational achievement. Second, I propose to extend these findings by collecting new data on sexual-minority youth for my dissertation. The Add-Health data set does not include items assessing parental reactions and acceptance based on sexual-minority status, only the perceptions of the quality of parenting. My second research question asks: Is parental acceptance a moderator (i.e., buffer) between the negative outcomes due to peer harassment in school and mental health for sexualminority youth? Recent cases of suicides of bullied sexual-minority youth highlight these social risk factors, yet little is known about possible buffers. I hypothesize that adolescents with a supportive and accepting home life are more likely to develop resiliency to bullying in high school compared to those with negative home environments, which will facilitate better psychosocial adjustment. I expect to find that better psychosocial adjustment will be associated with increased school achievement. Taken together, both studies will allow me to integrate previous findings regarding mental health and academic performance of sexual minority youth by focusing on critical social
risk and protective factors. For my dissertation study, I plan to collect at least three additional waves of data from the original participants annually. These additional waves will provide data to track trajectories of sexual minority-youth. In measuring these trajectories, I seek to understand the role of families on in-school and post-high school success of LGB youth. Methodology: For my dissertation, I will address my second research question using a comprehensive study I am developing with the guidance of my advisor, Dr. Stephen Russell. This study will include self-report questionnaires addressing family acceptance and rejection by utilizing measures adapted from the Family Acceptance Project (Ryan et. al, 2009) and the AddHealth survey. It will assess academic achievement (grade point average, attendance), mental health (depression, self-esteem) and perceptions of school climate. This study will also consider possible differences based on race, gender, and SES. In conjunction with Dr. Russell, I plan to recruit high school-aged sexual-minority adolescents from multiple sites, including locations in New York City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles, and Tucson. These specific sites, chosen for their unique diversity and geographic breadth, will provide me access to independently conduct my study on LGB youth. Subjects will be recruited online. My advisor is already engaged in recruiting and identifying these community samples, an invaluable asset to my research agenda. Plan of Analysis: I will use various multivariate statistics to test my hypotheses. For example, I plan to use multiple regression and/or structural equation modeling (SEM) for analysis of the Add-Health data set. I expect that family acceptance will predict academic achievement and will buffer victimization experiences in high school. Intellectual Merit: This proposal seeks to study social risk and protective factors relevant to sexual-minority youth at a time when national attention is focused on the tribulations of LGB youth. In combination with a resource-rich institution, my prior research experience affords me the knowledge and tools to conduct successful, informed, and transformative research. This project is novel because it utilizes contemporary theoretical framework to study the role of families on LGB risk and resilience. Broader Significance: The broad goal of this research is to create a platform to guide policy and inform clinicians to the imperative role parents play in the lives of sexual-minority youth. There has been attention on the recent influx of suicides among sexual-minority youth in the media, but little attention has been paid to the role that parents play in buffering these negative experiences. My research will inform this discussion by working with LGBT organizations and communicating with parents, educators, and policy makers. This research will help implement the necessary foundations to improve the resiliency and educational achievement of sexualminority youth. My doctorate will provide me with the training to conduct rigorous, transformative research that will serve to guide educators and policy makers. Assistance from the National Science Foundation will thoroughly enhance my ability to continue conducting highquality research. The alignment of this research with the diversity goals of the National Science Foundation is a key strength in my design and focus. References: Aceves, M. J., & Cookston, J. T. (2007). Violent victimization, aggression, and parentadolescent relations: Quality parenting as a buffer for violently victimized youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 635-647.
Pearson, J., Muller, C., & Wilkinson, L. (2007). Adolescent same-sex attraction and academic outcomes: The role of school attachment and engagement. Social Problems, 54(4), 523â€“542. Ryan, C. Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics, 123(1), 346-352. Tharinger, D., & Wells, G. (2000). An attachment perspective on the developmental challenges of gay and lesbian adolescents: The need for continuity of caregiving from family and schools. School Psychology Review, 29, 158-172.