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Stories of risk and resilience: Understanding violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth

Gloria T DiFulvio, University of Massachusetts Amherst


More than two million youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are at high risk for victimization based on increasing visibility and a subsequent decreasing societal tolerance for their existence (D'Augelli, 1996; Hershberger & D'Augelli, 1995; Human Rights Watch, 2001 a). This victimization is associated with negative health outcomes including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide (D'Augelli, 1998; Herek, Cogan, & Gillis, 1999; Meyer 1995; Paul et al., 2002; Savin-Williams & Cohen, 1996). The public health community is in a unique position to create necessary changes at the larger community and societal levels to address anti-gay violence. Understanding the risks associated with identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in a heterosexually dominated society is essential to an effective public health response. Equally important is an understanding of how these youth demonstrate resilience, succeeding despite adverse conditions. Current models of resilience, however, have not considered the social worlds of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Situated within a critical research paradigm, the study employs a grounded theory methodology guided by theories of oppression, feminism, and relational-cultural to explore with the participants the larger socio-political system within which victimization is fostered and maintained. The purposes of this study include: (1) Explore the perceptions and experiences of anti-gay violence among lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender youth. (2) Identify the consequences of these experiences. (3) Develop a conceptual model of resilience from the narratives of the participants. Two focus groups with 12 youth and 22 in-depth individual interviews with 15 youth were conducted. The participants describe a culture of homophobia that makes acts of violence against them acceptable, creating a sense of disconnection and alienation for the participants, an experience named, Becoming the Other. The conceptual model developed represents resilience as a dynamic process. The core category, Reclaiming the Self, is the process by which the participants resist against their otherness by reclaiming their true selves and gaining a sense of pride in their lives. The model asserts that Reclaiming the Self is developed through two channels: connection and resistance. Using a social-ecological framework, implications for prevention programming and policy are discussed.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

DiFulvio, Gloria T, "Stories of risk and resilience: Understanding violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136720.