In June 2022, NCER and NCSER hosted a virtual listening session, “Leveraging LGBTQI+ Voices in Education Research.” After a brief introduction from the Office of Civil Rights on Title IX and its relevance to protecting against sex and gender discrimination within schools and LGBTQI+ resources for students, seven guest panelists discussed the history of LGBTQI+ research, challenges, and ways forward. This blog provides a summary of the discussion.
Historical Perspectives on LGBTQI+ Education Research
Panelists shared their perspectives on the history of LGBTQI+ education research and made several important points. They noted that early LGBTQI+ education research was not situated in schools. Rather, as one panelist recalled, “Research on queer issues and education began as legal and historical research because of the politics of securing IRB both at your own institution and also schools.” Early research also focused heavily on negative experiences of queer and trans youth, such as bullying. “It is certainly important [to] interrupt homophobic bullying in schools, but it is troubling that queer and trans victimhood has become the most pervasive trope for recognizing bodies in schools,” stated a panelist, before urging the audience to change the narrative from victimhood to agency.
In 2001, GLSEN started their biannual National School Climate Survey, which asks LGBTQI+ students about their experiences of discrimination and school-based supports. Panelists highlighted this as a pivotal moment in collecting data on these students and their experiences in school.
Challenges in Conducting LGBTQI+ Education Research
Panelists also shared challenges in conducting education research with LGBTQI+ students:
- Geography. Although there is a need to conduct research in various regions across the United States to account for different political climates and other geographical factors, anti-LGBTQI+ policies present an obstacle to doing so in certain states.
- Getting consent from parents and districts. “In general, districts have moved from giving you an outright no, to the passive-aggressive drown-you-in-paperwork,” noted one panelist. “My work has decidedly been in out-of-school places,” another panelist agreed, “because it’s easier to ask questions around queer and trans youth agency.”
- Career-related barriers. Panelists cited difficulties in finding mentors and funding to engage in this research. One panelist noted, “There's also the challenge of key scholars and gate keepers who misunderstand queer scholarship,” which can make it difficult to receive funding or get published.
Future directions for LGBTQI+ education research
Panelists discussed several areas the field should attend to in order to ensure the future of high-quality education research on LGBTQI+ learners.
Responsible and Respectful Data Collection and Analysis
As identities are becoming more diverse and nuanced, it is important for researchers to prioritize collecting and analyzing data in ways that are inclusive and respectful of these varied and intersecting identities. As stated by one panelist, “We need to be able to design tests and validate forms of measuring sexuality, especially for younger queer and trans youth, not for the sake of measuring constructs, but because it's imperative at this time that we're able to use information to inform policy.”
Using a report from the National Academy of Sciences as a foundation, panelists recommended asking open-ended questions that allow individuals to give detailed explanations and providing sliding scales for participants to place themselves along spectrums. When a categorical question is needed, panelists recommended providing multiple options that go beyond the binary and providing an explanation for the categorical question (for example, “Oftentimes, we have to create categories to do the work that we do, can you please tell us which of these options best describes your sexual orientation?”).
Participants also discussed the importance of not collapsing data across categories and attending to intersecting identities, including gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, and race/ethnicity, to better understand experiences. “When those nuances are overlooked or erased,” one panelist remarked, “it becomes impossible to understand the LGBTQI+ community or the public health interventions that would effectively meet the needs of each and every LGBTQI+ young person, no matter their identity.”
Expanded Theories and Approaches
Panelists emphasized the need for an understanding and acceptance of less traditional theories and methods. One panelist stated, “We need to recognize the value of projects that are informed by queer theory, a transtheoretical informed perspective, or radical feminism… to expand what we know about LGBTQI+ experiences in schools.” In addition to quantitative methods, the panelists expressed a need for more qualitative and mixed methods studies and participatory action research.
A few panelists advocated for expanded researcher training to ensure future researchers “are adept in qualitative, quantitative and mixed method research techniques aimed at producing research that will then provide rich, sound, and respected information and data that can really impact LGBTQI+ issues.” Participants also recommended increasing the diversity of researchers conducting studies. “As we're thinking about creating a community of scholars, we must include scholars who are both members of the LGBTQI+ community as well as outside of the community,” said one panelist.
This blog is part of a 3-part blog series on sexual orientation and gender identity in education research in observance of Pride month. The other posts discuss the development of Time Tails, the first ever learning game featuring a canonically nonbinary character, and encourage the use of LGBTQI+ education research data.
This blog was produced by Virtual Student Federal Service intern Audrey Im with feedback from IES program officers Katina Stapleton (NCER - Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), Katherine Taylor (NCSER - Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), James Benson (NCER - James.Benson@ed.gov), and NCES project officers Elise Christopher (Elise.Christopher@ed.gov) and Maura Spiegelman (Maura.Spiegelman@ed.gov).