Exploring the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents in school: Lessons for school psychologists

Marjorie Cooper-Nicols, University of Rhode Island


This study utilized modified grounded theory methodology with gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) adolescents to explore three research questions: (1) How have schools responded to GLB youth? (2) What are some of the factors that help or hinder development of a healthy sexual identity for GLB adolescents? and (3) How does being involved in a community GLB youth organization impact GLB youth? ^ Prior research has demonstrated that schools are often hostile environments for GLB youth. With little recognition and support, GLB adolescents are a group at risk for depression, suicide, substance abuse, violence, and school failure. ^ Participants in this study consisted of 13 GLB youth between the ages of 15 and 18 who were members of Project 10 East, a community GLB youth organization serving the Boston, Massachusetts area. Each participant responded to semi-structured interview questions. Through a detailed process of systematic coding and analysis, key themes were identified. ^ Participants identified eight themes relevant to school responses to GLB youth: (1) abiding by the guidelines set forth by the Massachusetts Department of Education's Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students; (2) administrators assisting or not assisting GLB youth; (3) making counseling services available; (4) sponsoring school clubs; (5) GLB teachers being out; (6) safe space stickers on doors; (7) teacher support; and (8) general peer acceptance. ^ Analyses identified seven major factors that impact GLB adolescents' development of a healthy sexual identity: (1) the overall school environment; (2) friendships; (3) familial support; (4) self-esteem and pride; (5) positive role models; (6) community resources; and (7) involvement in GLB support groups. Finally, four benefits of association with Project 10 emerged: (1) counseling and educational services; (2) GSA development and maintenance; (3) forging a connection to the greater GLB Rights Movement; and (4) increasing feelings of pride. ^ Other key findings include: (1) anti-discrimination policies were not clearly enforced in the schools; (2) GLB youth interviewees developed strengths; and (3) participants did not perceive school psychologists as assisting GLB youth. Implications for GLB youth in schools are discussed, and recommendations for school psychologists at the individual practice and school policy levels are highlighted. ^

Subject Area

Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Developmental|Gender Studies

Recommended Citation

Marjorie Cooper-Nicols, "Exploring the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents in school: Lessons for school psychologists" (2006). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3225315.