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That Which Is Not What It Seems: Queer Youth, Rurality, Class and the Architecture of Assistance

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (or ‘queer’) youth are increasingly the objects of intense concern for ‘the state’, subjects of – and subject to – a panoply of interventional programs designed to mediate against queer youths’ ‘risk-taking’ behaviors. While the material and structural realities of queer youth’s lives are discursively absent in policy formation, they largely determine policy implementation and significantly shape policy reception, as there is an uneven distribution of state-based queer youth programming in Massachusetts. In the Commonwealth it is primarily rural and working-class communitybased organizations that receive most of the interventional programs, and thus it is working-class and rural queer youth who remain the primary – yet unarticulated - targets of state intervention. This research project is designed as an ethnographic intervention into the discursive absence - yet implicit operationalization - of class and geography in queer youth policy discussions and programming, exploring how working-class rural queer youth experience both their lives writ large as well as the programs designed to ‘help’ them navigate their way to a ‘healthy’ adulthood. Incorporating principles of Participatory Action Research, the research methodology actively involved queer youth who were members of either a communitybased queer youth organization or an education-based Gay Straight Alliance at a local high school, as well as a group of youth conceptualized as ‘policy refusers’ who attended neither organization. As class and geography can significantly shape the kind of engagement and messages that queer youth receive in policy and intervention programs, it may also determine the extent to which they participate in these programs. In exploring queer youths’ experiences with – or resistance to - such programs in a working-class and rural context, the project offers possibilities for understanding queer youth’s subjective realities as well the ways in which policies and programs often fail in attempting to reach such members of this ‘hidden population’. This collaborative project offers grounded insight into how queer youth coming-of-age in the economic and geographic margins of Massachusetts navigate their way to adulthood through, around, or in spite of the state’s programs of support and surveillance.
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