Race and Sexual Identities: Narratives of Women Navigating Intersecting Identities

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The purpose of this study is to provide context around the often-complex involvement that multiple minority identities can have on an individual. With the use of current identity development models around racial identity and sexual orientation, there have been no provisions around multiple identities or to the intersection of other identities building one main identity. As there is also a lack of literature around the topic of multiple identities and influences, this study’s main purpose is to add to the literature. The use of an intersectionality methodology was to provide a framework that would allow for discourse around marginalized identities to be examined simultaneously, in an effort to understand the complexities around this particular demographic. The sample consisted of women who identified as Black and lesbian between the ages of 18-51. A case study was conducted to gather information on how participants navigated their development process. The data analysis found several themes which were (1) sexual identification, (2) What it means to be and experiences related to (identity), (3) how the participants juggled (managed) intersecting identities of being Black and lesbian (4) acceptance of sexual identity (5) religion (6) discrimination. The findings provided an interesting outcome as there were many layers that were not considered such as how religion interacted with them and the development of their identity and was often a negative aspect in their lives to the discrimination that they felt not only in the LGBT community but also the Black community.
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RACE AND SEXUAL IDENTITIES: NARRATIVES OF WOMEN NAVIGATING INTERSECTING IDENTITIES by Tara J. Smelt REBECCA COWAN, PhD, Faculty Mentor and Chair WILLIAM UTESCH, PhD, Committee Member SERENA LAMBERT, PhD, Committee Member Anna Hultquist, PhD, LMFT, CFLE, Dean Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment Of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy Capella University June 2017     ProQuest Number: 10600792     All rights reserved  INFORMATION TO ALL USERS The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.  In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed, a note will indicate the deletion.      ProQuest 10600792  Published by ProQuest LLC (2017 ). Copyright of the Dissertation is held by the Author.   All rights reserved. This work is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code Microform Edition © ProQuest LLC.   ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway P.O. Box 1346 Ann Arbor, MI 48106 - 1346 © Tara Smelt, 2017 Abstract The purpose of this study is to provide context around the often-complex involvement that multiple minority identities can have on an individual. With the use of current identity development models around racial identity and sexual orientation, there have been no provisions around multiple identities or to the intersection of other identities building one main identity. As there is also a lack of literature around the topic of multiple identities and influences, this study’s main purpose is to add to the literature. The use of an intersectionality methodology was to provide a framework that would allow for discourse around marginalized identities to be examined simultaneously, in an effort to understand the complexities around this particular demographic. The sample consisted of women who identified as Black and lesbian between the ages of 18-51. A case study was conducted to gather information on how participants navigated their development process. The data analysis found several themes which were (1) sexual identification, (2) What it means to be and experiences related to (identity), (3) how the participants juggled (managed) intersecting identities of being Black and lesbian (4) acceptance of sexual identity (5) religion (6) discrimination. The findings provided an interesting outcome as there were many layers that were not considered such as how religion interacted with them and the development of their identity and was often a negative aspect in their lives to the discrimination that they felt not only in the LGBT community but also the Black community. Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to my mother Stephanie Smelt. For your abundance of patience and wise words throughout my adventures in schooling and life. With all the big dream’s you had for me and that I had for myself, I finally finished the biggest one. Thank you for always encouraging me to dream bigger. iii Acknowledgments The completion of this document could not have been possible without the patience and voice of reason of so many who have walked with me on this long and tiring journey. Their contributions are and have been greatly appreciated along the way. While I can’t name everyone, a few I would like to spotlight are Dr. Veronica Ford, for always picking up the phone to listen and distract. How many times I was ready to be done and you pushed me back on track. Thank you. To Maura, I can’t express how much you mean to me with your friendship and love throughout the years. You have taught me what it means to love unconditionally and that when things get really bad, dance like no one is watching and it will make the world right. Again, to my Mom. I did dedicate this document to you, however, it is also important to acknowledge that you’ve been there through thick and thin. The harder it got, the more you nurtured and told me to stay in my lane. Thank you for always picking up the phone after midnight to make me laugh and tell me the latest story, even if I had just talked to you, hours before. To Rebecca for keeping me grounded. For your endless support, understanding, love and humor. Thank you for keeping a smile on your face and always being quick with a joke to make me laugh when I couldn’t see the finish line. Your patience and kindness helped in ways that I don’t have the vocabulary to express other than, without you this would not have materialized as it has. iv Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Background of the Study 2 Need for the Study 6 Purpose of the Study 8 Significance of the Study 9 Research Question 12 Definition of Terms 12 Research Design 13 Assumptions and Limitations 16 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 20 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 22 Methods of Searching 22 Theoretical Orientation for the Study 23 Review of the Literature 25 Case Studies of Black Lesbians 49 Synthesis of Research Findings 52 Critique of the Previous Research Methods 55 Summary 58 v CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 59 Purpose of the Study 59 Research Question 59 Research Design 60 Target Population and Participant Selection 62 Procedures 64 Instruments 70 Ethical Considerations 73 Summary 74 CHAPTER 4. PRESENTATION OF THE DATA 75 Introduction: The Study and the Researcher 75 Description of the Sample (Participants) 76 Research Methodology Applied to the Data Analysis 82 Presentation of the Data and Results of the Analysis 83 Summary 100 CHAPTER 5. DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS 101 Introduction 101 Summary of the Results 101 Discussion of the Results 103 Conclusion Based on Results 105 Limitations 116 Recommendations for Future Research 119 vi Conclusion 123 REFERENCES 125 APPENDIX A. STATEMENT OF ORIGINAL WORK 138 vii CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION There are many external factors that influence an individual’s development as they walk through life. An individual’s growth is personal and often a reflection of an internal process that is guided by external factors and values (Coleman, 1982; Erikson, 1950, 1993). The one external influence that was focused on in this dissertation study is how individuals attempt to understand the often confusing and complex process of developing multiple identities and the intersection that is created. There are three identities that are spoken of within this dissertation research including gender, race, and sexual orientation. It is widely known that women of color are often stereotyped by their race and their gender (Remedios & Snyder, 2015). While race and gender are important to examine, the point of convergence for this research is on race and sexual orientation. A brief discussion around sexual orientation further in this document explains how there are great assumptions and limitations regarding sexual orientation in past research and literature. To specifically point to one of these assumptions and limitations, most studies regarding sexual orientation revolve around white men (Cass, 1979; Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter & Braun, 2006). This creates difficulty for anyone who identifies outside of a white male identity. This also creates a void of information as it pertains to individuals who identify as women, black, and sexual minorities. As there has been research around lesbian development (Rosario et al., 2004; Sarno, Mohr, Jackson & Fassinger, 2015) what has been noted as a void is the complexity of how being a “double minority” impacts individuals who are going through the process of developing multiple identities (Warner & Shields, 2013; Whitman, Cormier & Boyd, 2000). In this dissertation research, there is a review and examination of past and current literature on how individuals navigate their journey through developing their identity as it 1 pertains to their sexual orientation and race. An intersectional framework is implemented for extraction of information in this qualitative study. In Chapter 1, a background of the study is given to build the context as to why it is so important for this research to be conducted. Additionally, the need for the study is discussed which gives more grounding as to the specifics of the community that the research is being done for. The hope for this dissertation research is to contribute to the scholarly literature and research regarding this demographic. Background of the Study Identity development has been a topic of great interest for mental health clinicians, educators, child care personnel, physicians, researchers and more since the early 20th century (Barnes, Williams & Barnes, 2014). More recently, however, a growing interest emerged regarding the role of identity development as it relates to other personal factors such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender (Abrams, Maxwell, Pope & Belgrave, 2014; Bilodeau & Renn, 2005; Bowleg, 2008; Carter-Sowell & Zimmerman, 2015). A growing interest regarding identity development created demands on clinicians and researchers from the larger society, as individuals come to these professionals for such answers (Follins, 2011). However, while there has been greater attention focused on understanding the complexity of diversity and identity development, there remains a void with understanding multiple identity development (Dudley, 2013; Floyd & Stein, 2002; Hope, Hoggard & Thomas, 2015) such as with race and sexual identity. To understand the background of this study topic and question, this researcher investigated sexual minority history including development within society with specific attention to the correlation of sexual identity and race. Dudley (2013) spoke of this intersection as a focus for a true understanding, illuminating both differences within the groups of gays and lesbians as 2 well as shedding light on the influential self-perception and self-identification that comes within the subcultural styles. Hence, it was important to consider cultural contexts along with current social conditions as influences for lesbian development (Miller, 2011). The history of exploring race and sexuality based identity development demonstrated a tendency for past research to investigate persons with such group membership for deficiencies while failing to acknowledge the inter-relation and consolidation of both identities for one individual (Shapiro, Rios, & Steward, 2010). This is significant as there is much research (Babbitt, 2013; Barnes et al., 2014; Carter-Sowell & Zimmerman, 2015; Follins, 2011) examining other social identity development in various communities, such as sexual identities and racial identities, and the conflicting circumstances that arise for those individuals. However, little research has focused on specific intersecting identities such as being both Black and female, also referred to as being a double minority, which has unique challenges (Crisp, 2014; Follins, 2011; Follins et al., 2014; Ghavami & Peplau, 2013). Additionally, most research examining identity has assumed heterosexuality while the majority of research with regard to sexual identity has focused on White participants (Rosario, Schrimshaw & Hunter, 2004). Several researchers (Bates, 2010 Bilodeau & Renn, 2005; Rosario et al., 2004) have remarked on this void and emphasized the importance of having greater context regarding the intersection of race and sexual identity in diverse populations. In 1979, Cass published her six-stage model of identity formation for sexual minorities. There has been great criticism of the focus on stages proposed by this foundational theory, but this model is still widely used as a milestone and it is considered a foundational model when introducing sexual identity development (Bilodeau & Renn, 2005; Miller, 2011). While this model is often referenced, it is limited in that it fails to consider or contextualize the significant 3 challenges that non-White lesbians might encounter (Bates, 2010; Rosario et al., 2004; Shapiro et al., 2010). Additionally, Whitman et al. (2000) critiqued the assertion that development progressed via stages and provided a more modern approach asserting lesbian development was a deviated process (Rosario et al., 2006). It is generally understood in foundational identity development that the process of development is no longer a set of stages for individuals to master but a lifelong undertaking - meaning that the process is a fluid process based on the individual (Bates, 2010). The process involves engagement from one’s community that allows for the individual to embrace themselves in a positive light. Negotiating one’s identity development is a process which means that the individual must also manage their experiences in terms of sexual identity and race (Miller, 2011). In many cases, individuals are only dealing with one identity. Adding another identity has been known to create inner turmoil that is still yet fully unknown for Black lesbians (Rosario et al., 2006). One must also consider that identity integration is a major element of the process, however it is unknown how one becomes more accepting of both of these identities while also resolving internal negativity. Both identities are dominated by communities that dictate that being acceptable and mainstream means being heterosexual and White. Therefore, this dissertation study is imperative as a potential beginning to the expansion of thought and research regarding the potential differences in development within minority racial groups, specifically Black lesbians (Rosario et al., 2004, 2006). Coleman (1982), Troiden (1989) and Floyd and Stein (2002) have contributed to the understanding of the sexual identity development process since Cass (1979) proposed her six- stage model of identify formation for sexual minorities, but still little to no acknowledgement has been given in terms of race. These researchers did however highlight the importance of personal 4 experiences that sexual minorities undergo, providing a deeper understanding of the process. Bates (2010) discussed differences of norms and social constructs as they pertain to Black lesbian culture while attending to the many serious challenges that interfere with the process of sexual identity disclosure for lesbians. However, overall, there is a void of literature for mental health providers who specifically serve this demographic (Fiske, 2012). It seems imperative to provide more research that examines the area in a more holistic manner to contribute to a better understanding and awareness of this community, black lesbians, overall. In order to understand identity on a multidimensional basis, the theory of intersectionality (Babbitt, 2013; Carbado, 2013; Crenshaw, 1991; Crisp, 2014; McCall, 2005) is used in this current study. This framework has often been utilized in order to understand oppression within society. It has been consistently used in the exploration of racism, homophobia, and sexism (Balsam et al., 2011; Crenshaw, 1991). As the focus for this study is to understand the intersection of race, gender, and sexual orientation, the researcher thought it would be best to come from a perspective includes all aspects of an individual’s identity. It is vital that all aspects are examined because they are simultaneously engaging, interacting, and being influenced which ultimately affects one’s development (Carbado, 2013; Crenshaw, 1991). The idea that identity can only be examined one facet at a time is not effective, as people are not one dimensional beings. The reason the researcher was interested in conducting this study is personal. It is one that has perplexed the researcher as she navigated her own journey with little to no guidance. During the researchers’ developmental years, there was an added complexity of identifying as being biracial. The researcher was also interested in the navigation through the gay community as the gay community has always been presented around and about the White community and 5 there is less of an interest per say around the black gay community. In understanding identity development, it is known that community has a large influence on how one will navigate their journey (Cass, 1979; Cross et al., 1996). While there is speculation around this as religion plays a large role in the black community, the gay community is somewhat silenced for black individuals (Follins, 2011). There is also a very prominent bias around race within the gay community that was experienced by the researcher which manifested the interest to understand why this was such an issue. It also became a question as to how others have negotiated their journey around these challenges in development. Need for the Study The literature that is available primarily focuses on sexual orientation and race formation as separate processes (Cass, 1979; Chapman et al., 1987; Coleman, 1982). However, this literature is outdated and, therefore, current trends regarding development processes as they pertain to sexual orientation are unknown (Bilodeau et al., 2005). Additionally, the scholarly literature is void of research exploring sexual orientation and race as an intersection. This intersection is more about the translation of social and cultural context and interactions, and it is from these engagements that influence how one will manage or go through the process of identity development (Miller, 2011). In Cass’s (1979) model of gay identity formation, there is conversation around social conditions and how these conditions influence one’s identity formation. However, Whitman et al. (2000) challenges this model by asking for clarification of lesbian identity development as the process relates to management of other identities within that process. As society is a melting pot and many individuals are navigating multiple identities simultaneously, understanding these two identities and how they specifically intersect with one another can create a framework that can be 6 used as a construct. Several studies (Babbitt, 2013; Balsam et al., 2011; Barnes et al., 2014; Follins, 2011; Follins et al, 2014; Hunter, 2010; Wilkins, 2012) point to the Black community being the largest within the LGBT community, making one wonder why there are not more studies on the intersection of these identities and why the largest promoted population is still the white counterpart (Rosario, Schrimshaw & Hunter, 2004). Having a framework or process that is widely known that can be understood on several levels provides a better understanding of the development process of how one can go from accepting themselves, being recognized confidentially, and being socially accepted within their environment (Bilodeau & Renn, 2005). Rosario, Schrimshaw and Hunter (2004) identify the void of scholarly research on the intersection of race and sexual identity in their article by giving small details that challenge previous theories. These researchers explain that the majority of individuals all navigate multiple identities, however when specifically looking at the gay community there is a higher potential of negative attitudes towards their sexual orientation. This means that the likelihood of the coming- out process will extend much further than what Cass’s (1979) model allows. Having more research conducted on this particular intersection assists with providing a more solid understanding for the individuals who are helping the community and the community itself (Rosario, Schrimshaw & Hunter, 2004). As there is a wealth of knowledge on the stages of sexual identity development (Cass, 1979; Chapman & Brannock, 1987; Minton & McDonald, 1984; Rosario et al., 2001; Troiden, 1989) as a whole what is not clearly stated is the process for developing and coming out for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who are also navigating the identity of being a racial minority. The constructs of sexual orientation are tied to the significant expres
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