Date of Award

5-2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Advisor

George F. Marnik

Second Committee Member

Richard Ackerman

Third Committee Member

Elizabeth Allan

Additional Committee Members

David Brown

Gordon Donaldson

Abstract

Homophobia and antigay prejudice exhibited in high schools and their communities interferes with the process of human development and creates significant barriers to a healthy adolescent and adult identity. The focus of this retrospective qualitative research study was the high school experiences of three gay men and three lesbian women who were recent graduates of Maine high schools. The study examined whether and how Maine gay and lesbian high school students experience harassment, discrimination, or hate bias because of their perceived or recognized sexual identity; whether their sexual identity excluded them from certain educational opportunities and social relationships with their peers and/or significant adults; and how Maine gay and lesbian high school students secure affirmation, despite being members of a commonly stigmatized minority.

The data collection consisted of individual interviews, conducted on three different occasions, over a three month period. The participants' perceptions, feelings, behaviors, treatment, and experiences informed the interviews and the development of individual participant profiles. Cass' Six Stage Model of Homosexual Identity Development was used as a lens to depict the various stages the six young people experienced. The words of the participants, the profiles, and the developmental model formed the basis for analysis.

The study found that strong homophobic cultures existed in the participants' schools and communities. These. cultures caused the students to fear victimization and experience stigmatization and biased treatment which impeded their ability to naturally develop their sexual identity and impacted their social and learning experiences.

Despite the fear and adversity the participants experienced, each developed ways to cope with and/or counteract their unsafe, unaccepting school and communities cultures and marginalized treatment. These mechanisms also allowed the men and women to develop a positive sense of self, belonging in the school, and affirmation as individuals. Particularly helpful to all six participants in the development of their gay and lesbian identities was the understanding, support, and acceptance they experienced from some peers and adults. Lastly, the men and women offered pointed and compelling advice for the development of safer, more understanding, and inclusive high schools for all, including gay and lesbian students.

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