Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Renee V. Galliher


Renee V. Galliher


Gretchen Gimpel Peacock


Melanie M. Domenech Rodriguez


Susan Crowley


Christy Glass


As the majority of Americans identify with a religious affiliation, the religious context is an important backdrop upon which identity development occurs. For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and allied (LGBTQA) youths, the process of development may be complicated in a religious context due to denominational positions on same-sex sexuality. While recent researchers highlighted the importance of contextual influences on LGBTQA developmental processes, few studies have examined LGBTQA sexual and religious identity development. The goal of the current study was to gain a better understanding and appreciation of LGBTQA adolescent and young adult experiences of religious and sexual identity development.

Eight adolescents (15-18 years) and 11 emerging adults (19-24 years) who identified as both LGBTQA and having been raised in an active Christian religious tradition participated in the study. The study included three phases: face-to-face individual interviews, journal writings, and focus groups. In each phase of the study, participants were asked to reflect on their experiences of sexual and religious identity development across childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood (if applicable). Findings from the current study supported three broad themes and several subthemes. Early in their development, participants described a behavioral religious participation and early awareness of their same-sex attractions. The young adult participants also shared a tendency to deny their attractions. During their middle phase of experiences, participants often self-labeled as LGBTQA. Religiously, participants shared they questioned their beliefs yet continued their religious participation. A proportion of the participants indicated experiencing guilt, conflict, and mental health difficulties, which many participants related to their emerging sexual orientation and religious involvement. The late experiences, which often coincided with sharing a same-sex attracted label with friends and/or family members, was marked by a religious disengagement, social consequences, self-acceptance, and personal values clarification. Using the participants’ own words these findings are presented, along with possible implications and suggestions for future research.




This work made publicly available electronically on August 9, 2011.