Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Kristen Buras, PhD.

Second Advisor

Joyce E. King, PhD.

Third Advisor

Deron R. Boyles, PhD.

Fourth Advisor

Jodi Kaufmann, PhD.

Fifth Advisor

Maura Ryan, PhD.

Abstract

Sexual minority people face a heterosexist society in which they are legally and socially marginalized. Additionally, Black people face a society where racist attitudes and laws persist, one in which they are dehumanized as "other" in relation to Whites. Furthermore, being a Black male means confronting a system where, beginning in elementary school, one is frequently deemed deficient or deviant and penalized by racist practices and policies. Very few studies have examined how Black gay males come to understand their intersecting racial and sexual identities or how they navigate and negotiate life in a White heterosexist society.

This dissertation outlines the current state of sexual minority youth with a focus on Black gay males and suggests that more must be done to understand the lived experiences of this community within and beyond the schoolhouse, especially in a city such as Atlanta, which is known as a Black gay mecca and where the Black sexual minority community is visible. It is important to examine how a range of institutional forces, working in tandem with and sometimes against racism and heterosexism, challenge as well as assist Black gay males in forming their identities.

The purpose of the study was to gather the life histories of five young Black sexual minority males aged 19-24 in metro-Atlanta. I utilized critical race theory and quare theory, which critique endemic racism and heteronormativity, as a lens to understand their life histories within a larger societal context. By probing how numerous social institutions have influenced young Black male identity formation, including schools, peers, family, church, community-based LGBTQ organizations, and social media, this study presents life histories in a way that provides a more holistic picture of this community.

Due to the paucity of research focused on how young Black gay males are productively navigating through life, this study offers a distinct contribution by placing their histories front and center in an attempt to provide a counterstory to deficit-based perspectives. From the participants’ life histories, five factors were found to shape identity formation while navigating the above institutions: racial shelving (bracketing race in majority-Black environments to contend with sexual identity issues); thick skin (increasing ability to face and conquer challenges based on negotiation of past challenges); self-determination (taking the initiative to seek information and relationships to learn about sexual identity, including use of social media); defying/transcending stereotypes (refusing to conform to dominant narratives about Black gay males); and experiential evolution (understanding that experience translates into growth and self-affirmation). All of these factors address the ways in which the participants have come to understand, negotiate, accept, and even embrace their intersecting identities.

Additionally, findings are useful because the participants’ life histories have set a foundation for how educators and sexual majority youth can better understand a population facing a racist and heterosexist society and enable new policy interventions to be imagined. Four proposals, which emanate from participants' life experiences, are presented for schools to undertake: incorporating Black gay activists and community members into school culture, providing professional development for teachers on race and heterosexism, developing a comprehensive sex-education curriculum that includes gay students, and implementing a “Who Cares” campaign to mediate peer pressure to conform.

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