Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair(s)

Renee V. Galliher (Committee Chair)


Renee V. Galliher


Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez


Melissa Tehee


This study aimed to provide insights into the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) people within LGBTQ+ culture, and to explore how they disclose or conceal their sexual identities within different social environments. A qualitative study enabled me to become immersed within the stories of LGBTQ+ people, in order to better understand the construct and importance of LGBTQ+ culture. Through in-depth interviews and focus groups, 14 members of the LGBTQ+ community from around the nation volunteered to share their experiences with LGBTQ+ culture and their negotiation of identity within heterosexual culture.

From participants’ stories, key themes were identified: sexual identity and the processes of integrating multiple aspects of identity (i.e., ethnic, religious, gender), characteristics and values within the LGBTQ+ and heterosexual cultures, and how LGBTQ+ people make decisions to conceal or “come out” about their sexual identity depending on the environment. Participants described three levels of identification as LGBTQ+: individual, proximal social group, and a broader LGBTQ+ culture. The narratives converged to reveal a process, contextual navigation, for how LGBTQ+ people conceal or disclose (“come out”) their sexual orientation depending on safety within a given environment. We suggest that people working with LGBTQ+ individuals should encourage engagement in the LGBTQ+ culture, as this may provide support for identity development and facilitate mental health outcomes.



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