Outness and feelings of isolation among rural and urban gay,
bisexual, and queer adolescent males: A mixed-methods study
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Outness and feelings of isolation among rural and urban gay, bisexual, and queer adolescent males: A mixed-methods study

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Outness and feelings of isolation among rural and urban gay, bisexual, and queer adolescent males: A mixed-methods study

  1. 1. Outness and feelings of isolation among rural and urban gay, bisexual, and queer adolescent males: A mixed-methods study Zenaida Rivera1, Kathryn Macapagal1, Zachary DuBois1, Michele Ybarra2, Tonya Prescott2, & Brian Mustanski1 1The IMPACT Program, Department of Medical Social Sciences, Northwestern University 2Center for Innovative Public Health Research, San Clemente, CA INTRODUCTION RESULTS Gay, bisexual, and queer (GBQ) adolescent males are alone in facing increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS.1 Most HIV prevention programs focus on GBQ adults or heterosexual youth. GBQ youth-focused programs that do exist often are developed with youth in urban areas, who may face different challenges and have different access to resources than youth in rural areas. Understanding what differences, if any, exist in rural and urban GBQ adolescents’ experiences can inform whether interventions should be tailored to meet their unique needs. Research suggests that two factors that may impact rural GBQ individuals’ quality of life relative to their urban peers are “outness” about their sexual orientation and feelings of isolation.2 Little work in this area has compared these experiences in rural and urban GBQ adolescent males, however. This poster aims to characterize the experiences of isolation and outness using data from focus groups conducted as part of the development of Guy2Guy (G2G), a text-messaging-based HIVprevention program for GBQ adolescent males. METHODS Participants & recruitment 75 adolescent GBQ males (14-18 years old, mean age: 16.4) took part in the focus groups. Participants were recruited nationally through online advertisements and LGBT organizations’ websites. Participants purposefully represented a range of geographic locations, race, ethnicity, and urbanicity (i.e., current residence in an urban or rural area; Table 1). We calculated urban/rural status using a Metropolitan Statistical Area code provided by SAS.® 3 Table 1: Participant characteristics Urbanicity Rural % (n) 29.3 (22) Urban Bisexual 18.7 (14) Gay Sexual 70.7 (53) Figure 1: Percentages of code application 70% 68% 60% Similarities Both rural and urban participants expressed concern that a participant could be outed by the intervention. Both groups discussed issues related to outness such as visibility (e.g., “people can/can’t tell I’m gay”), religion, and dating. 50% Rural Urban 40% 39% 30% Differences Rural participants discussed issues related to being out or closeted more frequently than their urban counterparts (Fig. 1). Rural participants tended to discuss reasons they were out or closeted (Fig. 2A), while urban participants talked about possible or real reactions to their coming out (Fig. 2B). Rural participants discussed outness in more general terms (Fig. 2C), while urban participants discussed outness in terms of specific people who knew about their sexual orientation (Fig. 2D). Queer Caucasian 5.3 (4) 54.7 (41) African American 32% 20% 10% 0% OUTNESS/CLOSETEDNESS 5.3 (4) Mixed racial background Native American or Alaskan Native 18.7 (14) 1.3 (1) Coding & analysis Other 14.7 (11) Two independent coders Hispanic 25.3 (19) Ethnicity reviewed transcripts for emergent *Categories are not mutually exclusive themes. The code “outness/ closetedness” was applied to 149 excerpts where participants referred to being out or closeted regarding their sexual orientation. The code “isolation” was applied to 24 references to feelings of exclusion or isolation related to participants’ sexual orientation or sexual experience. Group differences were deemed significant if code application rates between the rural and urban groups differed by at least 20%. FEELINGS OF ISOLATION Similarities Both urban and rural participants expressed feeling as if they were the only GBQ person they knew of. Differences Rural participants expressed feelings of isolation or exclusion almost twice as frequently than urban participants (Fig. 1). Rural participants talked most frequently about feeling as if they were the only GBQ male in their small town or area (Fig. 3A & 3C), whereas urban participants’ reports of isolation primarily were in context of school, such as feeling like GBQ youth had unequal access to sexual health education, having a hard time meeting partners and friends, and feeling isolated because of sexual inexperience (Fig. 3B & 3D). Figure 3. Feelings of Isolation Figure 2. Outness/Closetedness RURAL A. “My dad is a pastor and he would „kill‟ me for being gay/bi.” (17 y/o) 5.3 (4) Asian Rural v. Urban Feelings of Isolation The code “Feelings of isolation” was applied in the context of participants’ discussions of these topics: texting and privacy, pressures to have sex, dating/socializing, sources of sex education and resources, and pros and cons to having sex. 61% 86.7 (65) Orientation* Race Rural v. Urban Outness/Closetedness The code “Outness/closetedness” of sexual orientation was applied in the context of participants’ discussions of these topics: texting and privacy, intervention concerns, dating/socializing, sexual decision making, and pressures to have sex. C. “I‟m very open about my sexuality (and from what I‟ve been told apparently I‟m kind of easy to spot. I scream fabulous.)” (16 y/o) URBAN RURAL URBAN B. “[My brother] loves me all the same and doesn‟t care if I am gay or bi or anything else.” (16 y/o) A. “It‟s incredibly difficult for me to meet guys at all. I live in an incredibly small town, and I‟m the only gay here.” (16 y/o) B. “There isn‟t many open LGBT people in my school which is sad because I kinda wish I had someone to share thoughts about general gay issues.” (15 y/o) D. “Everyone I live with knows I‟m gay… however…I‟m not out to any of my friends yet.” (18 y/o) C. “I have no idea where to find LGBT youth around me. I feel as if there are NONE and I am all alone. That is why I am not out.” (18 y/o) D. “There is NO LGBTQ sex lessons in health classes and we are pushed to the side. I feel like I am second to class mates.” (16 y/o) IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE Although there are similarities and differences between rural and urban GBQ adolescent males’ discussions of being out or closeted and their feelings of isolation, rural GBQ youth spoke more frequently about these topics compared to their urban peers. At the same time, both groups were concerned with the consequences of being out, and feeling isolated because of their sexual orientation, suggesting that these concerns are transcendent of place and resonate with many GBQ irrespective of where they live. While this research provided preliminary evidence for similarities and differences among rural and urban GBQ adolescents’ experiences with outness and isolation, additional research using a larger sample and questions specific to outness and isolation may provide additional support for our findings. These results suggest that programs in rural areas need to be particularly mindful of including strategies to reduce feelings of isolation. Urban youth in this study expressed interest in school-based outreach programs, which may help recognize, normalize, and validate GBQ youth’s experiences of outness, closetedness, and isolation. References: 1. CDC. (2013). HIV Surveillance Report, 2011. 2. D'Augelli, A. R., & Hart, M. M. (1987). Gay women, men and families in rural settings: Toward the development of helping communities. American Journal of Community Psychology, 15(1), 79-93. 3. Hadden L, Zdeb M. A well-kept SAS® secret. 31st Annual SAS® Users Groups International Conference (SUGI 31). San Francisco, CA2006. Acknowledgements: This study was funded by NIMH R01 MH096660-01A1 to Michele Ybarra & Brian Mustanski.We would like to thank all the youth who participated in this research.

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