This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In celebration of PRIDE month, three IES training fellows reflect on the state of education research for LGBTQ+ students and what motivates them to pursue this area.
Damon R. Carbajal (he/él) is a community scholar, educator, activist, and alumni of the University of New Mexico, Research Institute for Scholars of Equity (RISE) program, residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose work focuses on recentering intersectional identities in and out of educational spaces. Souksavanh T. Keovorabouth (they/them), Diné, completed the University of Arizona Pathways to Doctoral Studies in Education-Related Fields and is currently a PhD candidate at both Oregon State University and Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) as a Cotutelle Student, whose research focuses on the Indigenous urban experience, Two-Spirit wellbeing and Two-Spirit in urban areas, Relocation Act 1950, Native and Queer urbanization, BIPOC masculinities, and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Sarah Rosenbach (she/her) is a PhD candidate in psychology and social intervention at New York University, where she was a fellow in the NYU Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in Education Sciences during her first 4 years of graduate study, and is currently based in Honolulu, HI and researching evidence-based ways in which schools and other youth-serving settings can support the healthy development of LGBTQ adolescents.
What excites you about education research relevant to LGBTQ+ communities?
Damon R. Carbajal (DRC): As a gay, queer, Chicanx person, I have not had the easiest time in school and often felt I was voiceless. I see research as a powerful tool to help create safer spaces for all in education spaces. This is what keeps me going and what creates my deep connection to my research because I know that it helps to create spaces and opportunities that I did not have. Allowing folks to voice their lived experiences is critical for the growth of academia, research, and individuals. Overall, my excitement comes from the community we form when decentered voices are recentered in holistic ways that project the beauty and resilience of the queer community. This recentering is at the heart of all my work, and the impact is critical.
Souksavanh T. Keovorabouth (STK): What excites me is that I am able to bring in my own experience and experiences of other Queer Indigenous people into the light. Many Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit Indigenous people have been erased, even by our own communities. Two-Spirit is an umbrella term used to signify the vast diverse set of genders, sexes, and sexualities within Indigenous communities pre-colonialization. We use this term to bring that history into the present. I focus on urban Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ communities because many of us have been or are displaced and removed based on our diverse gender, sex, and sexuality selves and we need to (re)establish communities of care. Through our tracing of histories and lineages, we can see that Two-Spirit people are vital to our true restoration of Indigenous sovereignty.
Sarah Rosenbach (SR): I am excited for the field to begin to translate this evidence to practice in teams of interdisciplinary researchers who are in partnership with educators and community organizations. Schools are perhaps the single most studied context for LGBTQ+ youth. Together with my collaborators, I have contributed to a growing body of research focused on the state of LGBTQ+ youth experiences in schools. I have been fortunate to work with an amazing team of LGBTQ+ folks in education, psychology, public health, and sociology. The ability to show up to this work as my true self and to work towards improving school experiences for LGBTQ+ youth in community is very meaningful to me. With a groundswell of empirical support building across disciplines, we have reached a critical turning point for action. I am excited for the field to begin to translate this evidence to practice in teams of interdisciplinary researchers who are in partnership with educators and community organizations. I believe that it is time for us to turn to creating and testing school-based prevention, intervention, and health promotion programs that specifically examine – and alter - the ways that schools socialize cisnormativity and heteronormativity in the lives of all youth.
How has being a member of or ally to the LGBTQ+ community influenced your path as researcher?
DRC: As a gay, queer, Chicanx researcher, educator, and activist, I believe that being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has influenced my research in a variety of ways including the research I focus on as well as the idea of even jumping into research. When I first started college, I wanted to be a high school teacher and had not thought about anything else. During undergrad, I had research fellowships and mentorship experiences that helped me realize that I could create more safe spaces and reach more students and educators through a research path. This realization was life altering and allowed me to grow into a researcher whose queer and BIPOC roots grant me insights that are new and authentic because of my social awareness and new perspectives. As a researcher, I can draw upon my life experiences, which include trauma, assault, and other facets of life—facets of my life that are sadly the reality of many who are in the LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.
Because of my identity, I feel I am more likely to pursue topics that have often been overlooked or viewed as taboo. For example, my thesis examined LGBTQIA+ Mexican/x youth experiences of mental health in and out of schooling settings. Highly intersectional research such as this is not heavily represented in the field, except by researchers who are often members of the non-dominant communities. Overall, being an LGBTQ+ researcher can be taxing as I am often the only queer and/or Chicanx person in research spaces, but always highly rewarding because I am able to make a mark in the research world for and by my community.
STK: Being Queer and Nadleeh (Two-Spirit in Navajo language) influences my research because these aspects of me grant me the ability to draw upon stories and experiences to navigate the world outside of western construction of gender, sex, and sexuality. My research journey began in 2016. I was not feeling safe as a Queer, Brown, multiracial person, and I knew that others were feeling the same way, especially as policy debates and political actions, such as those reported by the Fenway Institute, took shape. We were being marginalized and erased, and this impacts mental health. Research indicates that LGBTQ+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers and that Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth are 2.5 more likely than their non-Indigenous LGBTQ+ peers. The Trevor Project survey also found that Indigenous youth who were accepted by their family and communities were nearly 60 percent less likely to attempt suicide. These numbers have really fueled the work that I do because I am able to use my voice and scholarship to give back to my communities and address their needs and support them. My identities have and continue to influence my path as a researcher because this is for all my community to move from having to survive to beginning to thrive. When I am done with my PhDs, I aim to continue writing, teaching, and working with my community through my research on Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit identity, as we are vital to Indigenous futures.
SR: We are seeing a nationwide onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation aimed at dismantling hard-earned yet tenuous civil rights and coordinated with efforts to dismantle culturally responsive pedagogy and antiracist education. It is critical for all of us, those in the LGBTQ+ community and allies, to speak out in support of all LGBTQ+ youth with our local reporters, school boards, city councils, and state legislatures. But this is just one part of the solution. We must continually ask our LGBTQ+ community, “How may I better serve you?” and let the answers drive our scholarship and our activism. We must partner with movements in antiracist and decolonizing education. Together, we can leverage our scholarship and activism to reimagine our education systems towards justice for all.
Produced by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants.