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Intersecting Sexual Identities, Oppressions, and Social Justice Work: Comparing LGBTQ Baby Boomers to Millennials Who Came of Age After the 1980s AIDS Epidemic

  • Institute for Scientific Analysis


In this study, we analyze 50 interviews with racially diverse, predominantly low-income, LGBTQ participants living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rooted in intersectional theory that conceptualizes identities as shaped by interlocking forms of oppression and privilege, we compared interviews with “Baby Boomers” to those with “Millennial” participants, who came into adulthood in a time of greater legal and social inclusion for LGBTQ people. Our analysis focused on three questions: How do participants understand their sexual identities? How are the identities of sexual minority participants coconstructed with intersecting forms of oppression? What motivates LGBTQ people in our sample to engage in social justice work? We found that white LGBTQ people tended to see their sexualities as primary to their identity, compared to LGBTQ Black and/or Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) who tended to see their identities in intersectional terms. Younger LGBTQ people were more likely to delink sex and gender identity; consequently, they were more likely to frame their sexual identities with terms not rooted in a gender binary (e.g., pansexual or queer). Experiences with homophobia were prevalent across generations, and intersected with racism and economic oppressions, but younger people more often described support from institutional agents. Participants’ sense of community and commitment to giving back after experiences of trauma motivated them to engage in social justice work. Our findings highlight the intersectional nature of oppressions faced by LGBTQ people and the need for organizations to move away from focusing exclusively on homophobic oppression as a monolith. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Received:  October  Accepted:  November 
DOI: ./josi.
Intersecting sexual identities, oppressions, and
social justice work: Comparing LGBTQ Baby
Boomers to Millennials who came of age after
the 1980s AIDS epidemic
Ella Ben Hagai1Rachelle Annechino2Nicholas Young3
Tamar Antin2
Department of Psychology, California
State University Fullerton, Fullerton,
California, USA
Center for Critical Public Health,
Oakland, California, USA
Bennington College, Bennington,
Vermont, USA
Ella Ben Hagai, Department of Psychology,
California State University Fullerton,
Fullerton, CA , USA.
Portions of this manuscript were com-
pleted when Ella Ben Hagai was a faculty
member at Bennington College.
Wehave no known conflict of interest
to disclose. The authors would like to
thank Amanda Le, Samantha Sanchez,
Don Oriel, Alexandra Morgan, and Scott
Forlin for their researchassistantships.
Kristin Beal’s Q-Lab,Esther Rothblum,
Hale M. Thompson, Carrie Lane, and the
editors and reviewers for their helpful
comments, which greatly improved this
manuscript. From the Center for Critical
In this study, we analyze  interviews with racially diverse,
predominantly low-income, LGBTQ participants living in
the San Francisco Bay Area. Rooted in intersectional the-
ory that conceptualizes identities as shaped by interlock-
ing forms of oppression and privilege, we compared inter-
views with “Baby Boomers” to those with “Millennial” par-
ticipants, who came into adulthood in a time of greater
legal and social inclusion for LGBTQ people. Our analy-
sis focused on three questions: How do participants under-
stand their sexual identities? How are the identities of sex-
ual minority participants coconstructed with intersecting
forms of oppression? What motivates LGBTQ people in
our sample to engage in social justice work? We found
that white LGBTQ people tended to see their sexualities
as primary to their identity, compared to LGBTQ Black
and/or Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) who tended
to see their identities in intersectional terms. Younger
LGBTQ people were more likely to delink sex and gen-
der identity; consequently, they were more likely to frame
their sexual identities with terms not rooted in a gen-
der binary (e.g., pansexual or queer). Experiences with
homophobia were prevalent across generations, and inter-
sected with racism and economic oppressions, but younger
©  The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
JournalofSocialIssues;–. 1
2BEN HAGAI  .
Public Health, we thank Emile Sanders
and Malisa Young.
This research and preparation of this
manuscript were supported by grant
#RCA (Antin, PI) from the
National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the
National Institutes of Health (NIH). The
content is solely the responsibility of the
authors and does not necessarily represent
the official views of the NCI or NIH. Also,
sincere appreciation is due to the research
participants who shared their insights and
time with us. Without them, this research
would not have been possible.
Funding information
National Cancer Institute, Grant/Award
Number: #RCA
people more often described support from institutional
agents. Participants’ sense of community and commitment
to giving back after experiences of trauma motivated them
to engage in social justice work. Our findings highlight
the intersectional nature of oppressions faced by LGBTQ
people and the need for organizations to move away
from focusing exclusively on homophobic oppression as a
economic inequality, gender variation, generational differences,
intersectionality, LGBTQ identity, racism
In , Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco famous for championing gay rights,
opened an upscale wine bar. Newsom’s “swanky cocktail lounge” took the place of the Lexington
Club, the “friendly neighborhood dyke bar” where there was “always a party, never a cover.” As
the last lesbian bar in a city dominated by venture capital, the Lexington’s closure was part of
a larger pattern in which people who are working class, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ runaway youth,
and/or members of households with women as primary earners have been increasingly priced out
of San Francisco neighborhoods (B, ; Morse, ; Moskowitz, ; Placzek, ). Set in a
neighborhood with Latinx and working-class roots, the Lexington site had previously been home
to a Mexican bar called “The Sunset.” In its incarnation as The Lex, this site formed part of the
Valencia corridor sometimes labeled the “women’s district”—located close to the Castro district
(populated primarily by gay white men), but with lower rents than the Castro (Moskowitz, ).
Any examination of gentrifier versus gentrified in this context must consider LGBTQ positionali-
ties as multiple and coconstructed with identity categories, such as ethnicity, race, socioeconomic
status, and gender (Bowleg et al., ; Cohen, ; Schulman, ).
In the United States, recent decades have brought unprecedented acceptance of LGBTQ peo-
ple in dominant/mainstream settings—marked by positive public opinion, legalization of same-
sex marriage, and increased LGBTQ visibility in the media (Ben Hagai & Crosby, ). On the
other hand, privatization and deregulation in the United States have led to the rapid gentrification
of urban centers, increased homelessness, and displacement of Black and/or Indigenous People
of Color (BIPOC), and/or people with low or moderate incomes. In San Francisco, for example,
between  and , the number of low-income residents declined by % and the number of
moderate-income residents declined by %, while high-income residents increased by %. In the
same period, low-income Black households declined by %, and the number of Black residents
also declined in moderate- and high-income categories (Verma et al., ). As the last lesbian bar
remaining in a San Francisco increasingly dominated by venture capital and technology indus-
tries, the Lexington’s closure was widely attributed to increased rents and a dwindling customer
base. With advancing gentrification fueled by a racist and heteronormative capitalist system, peo-
ple who are working class, Black, and/or Latinx, as well as households whose primary earners are
women and/or transgender, have been increasingly priced out of San Francisco neighborhoods (B,
; Morse, ; Moskowitz, ; Placzek, ).
Contradictions between decreased stigmatization of LGBTQ people and increased economic
and racial marginalization in urban centers highlight the importance of intersectional analysis
and praxis (Cole, ; Collins & Bilge, ; Combahee River Collective, ; Crenshaw, ;
Davis, ; Hooks, ). In this research, we conduct an in-depth analysis of interviews with
a diverse sample of sexual minority (i.e., not straight/heterosexual) LGBTQ people, a majority
of them low-income BIPOC, living in the San Francisco Bay Area from two generations: Baby
Boomers (born –) and Millennials (born –) (Dimock, ). Comparing LGBTQ
Millennials (<age ) to Baby Boomers (>age ), we examine how social positions derived from
interdependent axes of identity, such as race/ethnicity, class, and generation, are shaped by and
interact with systemic oppressions and changes in the social acceptance of sexual minorities over
time. Our analysis focuses on three research questions, grounded in intersectional and queer the-
ory: How do participants understand their minority/nonstraight sexual identities? How are the
identities of sexual minority participants coconstructed with intersecting forms of oppression and
generational experience? What motivates the commitment of some participants to social justice
This study contributes to the understandings of minority sexual identities by using a lens rooted
in Black feminist thought and queer theory paradigms that foreground interlocking forms of
oppression and are sensitive to shifts in the conceptualization of identities across historical peri-
ods (Balzer Carr et al., ; Cohen, ;; Ferguson, ; Grzanka, ; Rosenthal, ).
Unlike research that focuses exclusively on younger LGBTQ people or a single age cohort, in this
study,we examine ways in which living through periods that differ in terms of their acceptance of
sexual minorities may interact with interdependent aspects of identity and positionalities related
to race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and generation to shape how individuals conceptualize
sexual identity and marginalization. Whereas much of the research on marginalization of LGBTQ
people focuses on sexual orientation and/or gender identity as a singular axis of oppression, our
research takes an intersectional approach in which we asked participants to describe their identi-
ties in their own terms and in relationship to interlocking forms of oppression they face, such as
homophobia, racism, and economic oppression.
Because this research is rooted in intersectional and queer thought, we do not exclude transgen-
der people who identify as sexual minorities from our sampling, and we use the acronym LGBTQ
throughout this paper because the marginalization experienced by transgender people often over-
laps with the oppression of sexual minorities (Stryker, ). Because intersectionality is both
an analytical lens and activist political strategy (i.e., a political praxis) used to resist oppression
(Collins, ; Collins & Bilge, ; Combahee River Collective, ; Overstreet et al., in press),
we discuss processes that may lead people to combat injustice and ways in which organizations
may cultivate the power of LGBTQ people to create social change within their own communities.
Research using an intersectional analytical lens examines the ways in which different vectors
of identity, grounded in different oppressions and privileges, structure individuals’ subjectivity
(Collins & Bilge, ; Combahee River Collective, ; Davis, ; Hooks, ). The inter-
sectional lens highlights the ways in which vectors of identity, such as gender, class, and race,
are not experienced as separate but as coconstituting one’s sense of self (Bowleg, ; Rosenthal
4BEN HAGAI  .
et al., in press). Instead of understanding identity as exclusively internal, intersectional analy-
sis further examines how socio-political processes of racialization, heteronormativity, and class
oppression construct identity (Overstreet et al., in press). Because intersectional analysis focuses
on how inequalities shape subjectivity, different historical moments and cultural environments,
with different configurations of inequalities, shape identities differently (Collins, ; Heberle
et al., in press). From an intersectional standpoint, the increasing public embrace of LGBTQ peo-
ple may shape different LGBTQ positionalities (in terms of sexual identity, race/ethnicity, and/or
class) in different ways for people who came of age in recent decades compared to those who came
of age during the s “Save the children” anti-gay campaign or the s AIDS epidemic (Ben
Hagai & Crosby, ; Cohen, ).
The climate of increased acceptance of LGBTQ people has had several consequences for sex-
ual minority identities. Empirical research on generational differences suggests an increase in the
number of people who report engaging in same-sex sexual relationships. The number of adults
who reported having at least one same-sex experience doubled between the s and s
(Twenge et al., ). For people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the coming out age
has also decreased (Drasin et al., ). One study found that older gay and lesbian people (born
before ) were more likely to have come out after turning , while those who were born after
 were more likely to have come out before turning  (Dunlap, ). However, research also
suggests that “coming out” can have different meanings for Latinx and African American youth
compared to white youth. Among Latinx and African American youth, coming out to fewer people
and differential engagement with LGBTQ communities may be influenced by racism in LGBTQ
communities dominated by white people, as well as a sense of familial obligation and respect for
elders (Bowleg et al., ; Eaton & Rios, ; Rosario et al., ).
With the transgender revolution of the new millennium (Stryker, ), more expansive gen-
der categories—promulgated by activists and scholars to make space in mainstream US settings
for people who do not fit within a gender binary—are reflected in the increasingly popular use
of terms, such as nonbinary, genderqueer, and genderfluid (Bernstein, ; Galupo et al., ;
Tate et al., ). Younger LGBTQ people—sometimes considered “digital natives” in compari-
son to those who came of age before the popularization of personal computing—have also grown
up in concert with internet platforms that can enable engagement with niche and marginalized
communities whose members are less visible or less prevalent in their own localities (Prensky,
). Researchers have observed that LGBTQ youth in the United States and Canada spend over
 h a day on internet sites, which often serve as safe spaces to explore and engage with emer-
gent identities, particularly for youth who have trans* or queer (i.e., nonbinary, genderfluid, and
genderqueer) identities (Craig & McInroy, ; McInroy et al., ). Some research suggests
that online spaces may be especially salient in identity formation for African American and Lat-
inx LGBTQ youth, particularly among young men. While the usage of social networking sites
among African American youth is the same as or higher than among white youth, African Amer-
ican households are less likely to have high-speed internet access (Fields et al., ; Jamil et al.,
; Smith, ). Expanding gender categories have also impacted sexual identity categories as
terms that do not rely on binary gender, such as polyamorous and queer, become more widely
used (Galupo et al., ). Similarly, with the increased use of language describing the absence
of gender (“agender”), terms for encoding sexual identities in relation to the absence of sexual
or romantic orientation (e.g., “asexual and panromantic,” “pansexual and aromantic”) have also
gained wider use (Walton et al., ).
Intersectional research on LGBTQ identity that integrates experiences of LGBTQ people who
are BIPOC and/or low income complicates the “it gets better” narrative of LGBTQ life in the
United States. For low-income LGBTQ people, coming out is associated with more stress and
health problems compared to LGBTQ people with higher incomes (McGarrity & Huebner, ).
Intersectional thinkers and researchers have noted that people who are LGBTQ and BIPOC face
multiple jeopardies in a culture that privileges whiteness, and are marginalized/rendered invis-
ible compared to LGBTQ white people (Mosley et al., ). For example, LGBTQ people who
are Black/African American may experience racism from white LGBTQ communities as well as
homophobia or transphobia (Bowleg et al., ; Calabrese et al., ). The multiple jeopardies
facing people who are LGBTQ and BIPOC elucidate the relatively later age of coming out and
being less public about one’s sexual identity among some BIPOC individuals. For instance, one
study found that Black lesbian and bisexual women may “negotiate the complexities of maintain-
ing ties” with communities of origin by “adopt[ing] an implicit agreement whereby both parties
(i.e., LBW and the family/community) covertly acknowledge the sexual minority status, but do
not discuss it overtly” (Bowleg et al., , p.).
In a famous statement, members of the Combahee River Collective argued that activists should
account for the ways in which systems of power, such as capitalism, patriarchy, and racism, work
together. They wrote:
We are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class
oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and
practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.
(Combahee River Collective, , p.)
Intersectional praxis rejects activism focused on only one axis of identity. For instance, Cohen
() argued that when gay and lesbian political movements have focused only on securing
LGBTQ rights, they tended to privilege the political goals of white men and gay elites, such as
focusing on issues that reduce tax burdens for same-sex couples or advocating law enforcement
interventions without accounting for different experiences of harm perpetrated by state actors
(Goff et al., ).
Psychological research has linked “intersectional awareness” and intersectional consciousness
with attention to inequalities and oppression not only within one’s own ingroup but also among
outgroups (Cole et al., ; Curtin et al., ). A strong collective identity together with a sense
of collective injustice may be associated with the recognition of marginalization toward other dis-
enfranchised groups (Ellison & Langhout, in press; Hill et al., ; Nair & Vollhardt et al., in
press). Motivation to be involved in social change and social justice actions can also be associ-
ated with experiences of trauma (Worrell et al., ). Among sexual minorities, experiences of
trauma may be rooted in homophobia interrelated with stressors rooted in other forms of oppres-
sion, such as those based on race, sex, and socioeconomic class. Herman () argues that the
6BEN HAGAI  .
experience of recovering from trauma proceeds in stages. After individuals establish safety and
security and mourn the loss inflicted by trauma, they enter a reconnection and integration stage.
In this last stage, individuals may narrativize their trauma and engage in community activism to
protect others from similar trauma. A radical healing framework among communities of color
further highlights the importance of forming communities of resistance in which individuals
together locate the sources of trauma (e.g., racism, sexism, and/or homophobia), collectively fos-
ter hope, and work together to promote healing for themselves and others (French et al., ;
Ginwright, ).
In this study, we use interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) that aims to explore how
people understand identity and the social world (Smith & Osborn, ). We ask three questions:
How do participants understand their sexual minority (i.e., not straight) identities? How are the
identities of sexual minority participants coconstructed with intersecting forms of oppression?
What motivates participants’ commitment to social justice work? In alignment with intersectional
feminist theory, we use IPA to examine identity as coconstructed in relation to changing social
structures of privilege and disadvantage, as opposed to universalist conceptions of identity (e.g.,
universal understanding of what it means to be a woman) (Collins, ). Because the climate for
LGBTQ people in the United States has shifted toward greater legal protection and mainstream
public support in recent decades, we compare the experiences of LGBTQ Baby Boomer partici-
pants to LGBTQ Millennial participants.
Study participants were recruited through community organizations, online referral via Craigslist
and social media, and participant referral. After an initial screening (online, via phone, or in per-
son) to determine eligibility, participants completed a closed-ended survey (online or in person)
to collect demographic and other information related to social stigma and tobacco use. The inter-
views were conducted in person. To protect participant confidentiality, the names used here are
pseudonyms chosen by the participants. In order to compare participants who experienced differ-
ent generational contexts, for this paper, we analyzed  interviews from sexual minority partici-
pants (i.e., participants who did not identify as straight) from two generations:
“Baby Boomer” participants (born between  and ) who were adults at the height of the
s AIDS epidemic.
“Millennial” participants (born between  and ) who came into adulthood in a time of
greater legal and social inclusion for many LGBTQ people in the United States.
Most of our sample was made up of low-income people from diverse racial backgrounds. Specif-
ically,  participants were BIPOC, and more than half of participants () had a maximum income
of $,. When asked to identify their gender,  participants identified as women,  identified
as men,  identified as genderqueer or nonbinary, and  identified as transgender. As for sexual
Table 1 Demographics of sample participants
Baby Boomer
Average age . (–) . (–)
Gender: Women  
Men  
Genderqueer/nonbinary 
Transgender  
Sexuality: Lesbian and Gay  
Bi-sexual  
Asexual  
Queer  
Ethnicity/Race: African
 
Latinx  
Asian  
White  
Native American, Native
Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and
Alaska Native
Income –,  
,–,  
, and above
No answer
Employment status: Full time
Part time
Disability  
Unemployed  
Retired or no answer
Note: One of the people in the African American category identified as North African. People could choose more than one ethnic
identity,  participants identified as lesbian or gay,  as bisexual,  as asexual, and  as queer.
The Millennial and Baby Boomer cohorts consisted of  participants each. The Millennial cohort
ranged from  to  years old, with a mean age of ., while the Baby Boomer cohort ranged
from  to  years old, with a mean age of .. Table details further demographic information.
Interview procedure and interview questions
Interviews in this sample were primarily conducted by two queer-identified research assistants
(one Black woman and one white man) with experience and training in conducting qualitative
interviews. With breaks, interviews lasted on average . h, as is common in qualitative research
designed to capture “thick description” related to abstract constructs, including identities and
stigma (Charmaz, ). Participants received a $ honorarium in cash for their participation.
8BEN HAGAI  .
The semistructured interview had several parts, including the discussion of tobacco use and smok-
ing, which were not part of this analysis. For the purpose of this study, we analyzed parts of the
interviews that focused on participants’ positionalities, including sexual and gender identities,
racial/ethnic identities, stigma, and sense of community. The interview guide began with ques-
tions about how participants described themselves and their experiences, and current routines
during a typical day: “In your own words, please tell me a little bit about yourself. How would you
describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?”; “I am curious to hear what other parts
of yourself are also central to how you identify yourself”; “Describe a typical day in your life.”
Midway through the interview guide, discussion of identity shifted to questions focused on par-
ticipants’ perceptions and experiences of sexual identities, gender identities, racial/ethnic identi-
ties, and related forms of oppression, including homophobia. Questions related to sexuality, for
example, included: “How do you identify your sexuality?”; “To what extent is your sexuality cen-
tral to who you are?”; “What other terms do you use to describe your sexuality? Please explain.”
Participants were also asked about the aspects of their identity that they stated were important:
What has it been like for you to be [...participant identity]?”; “What was it like for you when
you were younger, what is it like for you now; can you talk about to what extent this has shifted
over time?”; “Who and where do you feel most connected? Why?”
The primary analysis for this paper was conducted by the first and third authors. Our analysis
was guided by IPA together with analytical strategies associated with grounded theory (Charmaz,
;Smith&Osborn,). We read and reread the interview transcripts and, with the study
questions in mind, conducted a line-by-line analysis, writing notations and paraphrasing partic-
ipants’ statements on the margins of the transcripts. With additional rereading and discussion of
the interviews, we wrote memos and used iterative open coding to identify themes. Themes were
refined and further clustered into superordinate themes. As analysis progressed, we began to pay
special attention to convergent and divergent themes within generational groupings and across
racial groups. To visualize divergent and convergent themes, we created a spreadsheet with the
superordinate themes and quotations from the interviews. An expanded spreadsheet functioned
as a theme book, which the first author used to code the frequency of themes for all the interviews
in our sample.
Researchers’ positionalities
The first three authors identify as LGBTQ. Specifically, the authors include a queer-identified,
genderqueer, white, Gen-X immigrant to the United States active in the San Francisco Bay Area
queer community from  to ; a multiracial bisexual cisgender man in his early s who
is based in New York; a queer, white/Italian American, Gen-X, cisgender woman who lives in
the San Francisco Bay Area; and a straight, white Gen-X cisgender woman who lives in the San
Francisco Bay Area. To enhance reflexivity regarding the ways in which we changed our under-
standing of the transcripts through reading and rereading, we took notes on the ways our ques-
tions and insights shifted during analysis. For example, when we began our analysis, we expected
that Millennial participants would experience less homophobia. However, we found that both
Baby Boomers and Millennials described experiences with intense homophobia. Based upon
participants’ narratives, we also shifted from a focus on activism as political collective action
(like protests and demonstrations) to a broader understanding of activism that included work in
nonprofits and assisting community members. As analysis progressed, we found that participants,
especially older participants, framed activism in terms of work in nonprofits, education, and sup-
port groups.
We used several strategies to enhance the trustworthiness of our findings (Merriam, ). The
fruit of this study is based on prolonged engagement (over a year), in terms of reading and discus-
sions of the data. We compared our findings across different investigators. Through many conver-
sations among the authors, we came to agreement on key emerging themes. The second author
conducted supplementary analysis of the interviews and the themes that emerged, supporting
and expanding upon them. The relatively large number of interviews allowed us to come to data
saturation in which we felt that the reoccurring themes represented trends in the sample. We
intentionally sought out conflicting data in the interest of refining and illuminating differences
in themes across social categories (Antin et al., ). An epistemological assumption of the study
is that reality is constructed by the observer as well as the observed, knower and the known are
mutually constituted (Lincoln & Guba, ). Although theme frequencies are typically associ-
ated with more positivist paradigms, we provide selected theme frequencies below solely as an
additional form of triangulation to enhance trustworthiness.
In what follows, we describe themes that emerged from our analysis as they relate to the study
questions. Our first study question examined how people understand sexual identity. Our analysis
of the interviews suggested that white participants tended to position their sexuality as a central
component of their identity compared to BIPOC, who tended to frame their sexuality in less cen-
tral and more intersectional terms. Younger participants often discussed gender as delinked from
sex. Participants who delinked gender from sex also often described a nonbinary understanding of
sexual identities (e.g., queer, pansexual, and kink). Although participants in both age groups expe-
rienced homophobia, some younger participants also discussed receiving support from organiza-
tions or institutional agents in their narratives. For BIPOC, experiences with homophobia were
compounded with experiences of racism and economic precarity in some LGBTQ community
spaces, highlighting the ways in which racism in white LGBTQ communities and class oppres-
sion in the San Francisco Bay Area’s “gay mecca” structure the experiences of study participants.
Across racial lines and generations, participants in our sample experienced housing insecurities.
Our analysis further suggests that a sense of community belonging, especially for survivors of
trauma, motivated participants’ commitment to social justice work.
How is sexual identity understood?
In the beginning of the interview, participants were asked, “Can you tell me a little bit about your-
self?”; later in the interviews, participants were asked about sexual identity and its importance
10 BEN HAGAI  .
to them. We found that sexual identity was often positioned differently in BIPOC participants’
narratives compared to white participants’ narratives. When participants were asked “Can you
tell me a little about yourself” at the beginning of the interview, most (approximately %) white
interviewees centered their sexual orientation. For instance, Logan, a gay white man, opened, “[I
am a] sixty-year-old gay male who lives in San Francisco.” Rachel, a white lesbian in her s,
described her identity: “came out as a lesbian when I was . I have always been attracted to girls
and women.” Jake, a -year-old man who was born in San Francisco, identified as a “native born
fag.” Younger white LGBTQ people also tended to foreground their sexual identity. For instance,
Kay, a white -year-old queer woman, said, “Let’s see. I’m pretty queer, pretty gay, etc.” Kelvin, a
-year-old gay white man, explained why it is important to him to be “out” about being LGBTQ:
I’m not sure what would be the most important thing. Probably that I’m gay would be
the first important thing to say, because a lot of people, they don’t really understand.
And I think that the more people know about gay people, the better. So, I think that
would be one of the most important things that I would have to say.
Kelvin’s and other white participants’ centering of sexual identity echoes Harvey Milk’s gay
liberation ideology that highlighted the importance of being out so straight people will understand
that LGBTQ people are their family, friends, and colleagues (Stewart, ).
Compared to white participants, fewer (approximately %) BIPOC participants positioned sex-
ual identity at the center of their narrated identity. Some BIPOC participants preferred to discuss
their sexuality in terms of attraction or behavior. To exemplify, Bebop, a -year-old African Amer-
ican woman, focused on attraction rather than identity when talking about who she was, saying,
“[I am] a woman who likes women. I still like men; I don’t have sexual relationships with them.”
Joke, a -year-old African-American man, decentered his sexual orientation, saying, “My sexual
identity is a small part of me; it doesn’t define who I am. It’s a very small part of me.” Ralph, a
-year-old African American man, explained, “I’m one of these gay guys that considers myself a
man that happens to be gay.” The decentering of sexual identity categories also appeared in the
narratives of younger BIPOC participants, such as Belizair, a -year-old African-American man,
who refused identity categories and explained that “I love women. But, at this point, men are the
next best thing.” Bebop, Jocke, and Belizair described an understanding of sexuality in relational
terms that were not centered in a straight-versus-gay dichotomy but was more context dependent
and fluid.
Furthermore, some BIPOC participants framed their sexual identity in intersectional terms.
These participants saw their sexual identity as mutually constituted by their racial and/or gender
identities. As such, sexual orientation was not a singular or additive identity, but rather mutually
constituted by other social positions. For instance, Jen, an Asian American lesbian in her s,
said, “I identify [as] LGBTQ, queer, bi and also South Asian, woman of color.” Edj, a -year-
old, bisexual, Nigerian American woman, reflected on differences in the presentation of sexual
identity between her friends in a predominantly Black Detroit community compared to people at
the predominantly white university she attended:
I feel like in Detroit, I was just a lot more accepted. Because there was actually a lot
of gay girls in Detroit. So, it was a culture where they understand that I’m a woman,
and I’m bisexual, and I’m Black. But I feel like at [the university], the gay people there
were just different... the gay people were just too out there, almost too gay.
Edj highlights her feeling of inclusion in Detroit’s LGBTQ community where her intersectional
identification as a woman who is bisexual and Black is accepted, whereas on her predominantly
white university’s campus, sexual identity was centered in a way that felt “just too out there.”
Some BIPOC participants who did not center their sexual identity described a sense of alien-
ation from white gay communities. Rico, a -year-old Puerto Rican participant explained, “I did
see images in the news of gay people; it often included thin Caucasian feminine, educated, swishy
Caucasian men, and I couldn’t identify with that at all. And that’s not an image that I see myself
in as well, even until today.” Brooke, a -year-old African American man, explained:
I don’t need to take the world’s titles, you know, queer, gay, bisexual, what have you.
It is what it is, and that’s how I see it. I don’t care to take on these other titles that the
white people came up with. That’s who they are. That’s who they want to be identified
as. But, I’m identified as a young, Black man, as a Christian that loves another young,
Black man that’s a Christian. Boom.
Brooke articulates his rejection of the privileging of sexual labels and identities promulgated
by the white gay community; instead, he offers an intersectional understanding of his sexuality
based in practices of love, faith, racial group affiliation, and gender identity.
Gender and sexual identity
As people with minority sexual orientations, all of the study’s participants could be considered
gender nonconforming in some way, and most participants distinguished gender expression from
the concept of “biological sex,” which we refer to here as sex assigned at birth (SAB). An individ-
ual who is assigned male at birth might be understood to have a more feminine gender expression
than an individual who is assigned female at birth, for example. Lucky, a -year-old queer Black
woman, made a distinction between her butch masculine expression and “daddy” gender expres-
sion, while embedding these gender expressions in female sex. She understands herself to be a
woman (congruent with the female sex she was assigned at birth), but also sees herself as someone
who expresses herself in masculine ways. When the interviewer asked Lucky what “daddy” looks
like, she replied, “you know, just this heavy-duty masculine woman. Yeah, I’m very masculine
and butch, but you’re not going to call me daddy.” For Lucky, her sense of herself as “masculine
and butch” was distinguished from her identification as a woman.
However, compared to younger participants, Baby Boomer participants seemed less comfort-
able with a more internalized sense of gender identity or “subconscious sex” as a concept that
also may not align with SAB (Serano, ). To exemplify, Gertrude, a -year-old white cis les-
bian, explained “I think I am [emphasis added] female. I think I was a boy spirit, born into a
female body no doubt.” She did not express discomfort with seeing herself as someone who is
both “female” and has a “boy spirit.” Yet, Gertrude claimed that “transgender people. . . make
life hard,” and that she is “not that flexible.” She struggled with the idea that a person could feel
strongly that she “is” female regardless of the sex she was assigned at birth. For these participants,
same-gender attraction was conflated with attraction based on same-SAB (or same “biological
sex”). From this point of view, for example, a romantic pairing involving a cisgender man (SAB is
male, gender identity is male) and a transgender woman (SAB is male, gender identity is female)
might be presumed “gay” because it is between two people whose SAB is male. However, when
gender identity is not conflated with SAB, this is a relationship between a man (who is cisgender)
12 BEN HAGAI  .
and a woman (who is transgender). Participants under  were more likely to invoke a narrative
in which they understood gender identity as distinct from SAB (approximately % of Millennials
described SAB in terms distinct from gender identity, compared to % of Baby Boomers). Fur-
thermore, Millennial participants tended to have more nuanced and rich language to describe
gender identity as different from SAB. Neil, a -year-old Caribbean-American who identified as
nonbinary, saw their gender as “female divested femininity,” meaning that their femininity was
not linked to being assigned female at birth. Neil explained their gender performance as femme: “I
performmy genderand in ordertokeep myselfsafe, as likeafemme....Ana,assignedfemaleat
birth, explained that they “identify as non-binary trans, but also very strongly as a femme person.”
Younger participants further explained the way their generation understood gender. For instance,
Viola, a -year-old Latinx participant explained:
A lot of people are starting to come to the realization that gender is a concept.. . just
because you are assigned something at birth, it doesn’t mean that it’s true to how you
feel. And I mean, I very much identify with womanhood.. .
Although some participants felt comfortable presenting a normative expression of their SAB
(as female expressing femininity), as in the case of Viola, a female who “very much identif[ies]
with womanhood,” younger participants, nevertheless, used language that highlighted differ-
ences between sex and gender. Unlike Baby Boomers, who tended to identify with their SAB
even if they saw themselves as gender nonconforming (masculine woman), younger participants
delinked SAB from both gender expression and gender identity. Participants, such as Kay, Viola,
Ana, and Neil, who delinked sex from gender in their narratives, described their sexual identities
using terms not rooted in a gender binary, such as kink, pansexual and panromantic, and queer.
Along with delinking sex and gender, younger participants often understood sexual attraction
to be less about SAB (female or male) or gender identity, and more about gender expression.
Kenny, a -year-old mixed-race gay man in his s, explained that as a gay man he is attracted to
masculinity regardless of the body or gender identity of the person. He described how this real-
ization came to pass.
I remember I was working on something with our gay student alliance, and one of the
people on the board with me sent up her girlfriend to come help me. And I remember
turning around and seeing this really, really butch lesbian and being like, Oh, my
God. You’re hot. And what I realized is, I’m attracted to masculinity. So, while gay,
that doesn’t close me off to that one sector of the community... I’ve had sex with
before trans, so FTM... And I’ve not really ever had sex with a girl, but in that sense,
if you exude masculinity or something like that, that attracts me.
The delinking of sex from gender resulted in a broader understanding of sexual attraction and
sexual identity. Among the younger participants, there was a proliferation of gender terms (agen-
der, nonbinary, gender fluid, and trans), which was associated with a proliferation of sexual cate-
gories, such as queer and pansexual, not based on binary gender.
Intersectional forms of oppression
Across generations, participants with same-sex attraction and LGBTQ identity described experi-
ences of oppression and marginalization. Some older participants experienced extreme forms of
oppression when coming out in the early s or s, including being kicked out of school,
losing connection with parents, abuse from their families, and violence outside the home. For
instance, Andrew, a -year-old queer white transgender man in his early s, remembered that
he initially “came out as a lesbian when I was  years old in  and promptly got kicked out
of high school.” Another white participant, Kito, age , recalled being assaulted in a London
meditation group. “I announced that I was gay. And one of the Scottish guys came up, got up
immediately and came at me. Obviously, he was very angry.. . it was enough to put me on alert.”
Younger participants also discussed experiences of abuse and rejection from parents and peers
when they were coming out. One participant who was in foster care was kicked out of his foster
home, and another was abused by their mother.
We noted, however, that some young participants (approximately %), when answering ques-
tions about their life experiences and homophobia, described receiving support from organiza-
tions like the Gay and Straight Alliance, LGBTQ centers, mentors, educators, or mental health pro-
fessionals. Descriptions of assistance from an organization, educator, or mentor appeared among
BIPOC participants to the same extent as white participants. For instance, Violet, a -year-old
BIPOC-identified woman, recalled a scene in which she and her ex-girlfriend were summoned by
their parents, who had found out about their romantic relationship on social media.
My ex-girlfriend’s mom gets up, gets really close to my face and starts yelling at me
about how I’m disgusting and that I have brought shame upon her family.. . [my ex-
girlfriend] got on her phone.. . and convinced my principal to come into the space
andhelp mediate...everything de-escalated as soon as she got there....
Although her parents were against the relationship, Viola’s ex-girlfriend felt safe to ask the
principal of her high school to intervene.
Racism in the LGBTQ community
BIPOC participants experienced interlocking forms of oppression, including homophobia
together with racism from white LGBTQ communities. African American participants, especially,
discussed blatant experiences of racism in predominantly white gay bars and other queer spaces,
as well as exotification and microaggressions. Ralph, a -year-old African American man who
lives near the Castro district in San Francisco, said:
As a man of color, I don’t feel accepted in San Francisco. I go to the gay and lesbian
center, and basically, they follow me around. . . When I go to the Castro, I’m [viewed
as] a thug, and I’m anything but a thug.
14 BEN HAGAI  .
Ralph described being stereotyped as a “thug” and observed with suspicion as a Black man
in white gay establishments. Edj, a -year-old Nigerian American woman, talked about the dif-
ficulties of being Black and bisexual, and the exotification she experienced when dating in San
Francisco as a Black woman.
Because the techies are making so much money, so the gentrification and everything,
it’s like when you see a Black person.. . I mean you’ll see of course maybe the rich
Black male, or whatever, the rich Black female. But not a lot. So I feel just being Black
here is already just an issue, and then being Black and gay is just like – I feel like
people just want to use me almost. Oh, because I’m Black and I’m a gay girl. They’re
like okay, that should be a good fuck, but it’s not personal.
People who are BIPOC may be especially likely to encounter tokenism and exotification in San
Francisco, where intersecting racism, class oppression, and gentrification have pushed people
who are Black and/or Latinx out of the city (Hing, ; Moskowitz, ).
Class oppression and housing insecurity
Across racial and generational lines, LGBTQ participants in our sample, who were predominantly
low income, experienced housing insecurity, including the threat of displacement or needing
to house family and friends who could not find their own housing. Altogether, housing insecu-
rity was common among study participants across racial categories (approximately % of Baby
Boomers and % of Millennials reported housing insecurity). Some older participants were able
to secure public housing after experiences with homelessness. For instance, Ralph described his
living situation:
I live by myself in an SRO [Single Room Occupancy]. It’s fairly big. It has a bathroom
in it. We have supported services there, and they’re great. They always have something
going on, like five or six times a week. It’s pretty good, and of course, half the building
is on some drug. And last night, it was real rough trying to sleep.
Within the context of lack of affordable housing in San Francisco, Ralph sees himself as for-
tunate to have a room with his own bathroom and some services. Nevertheless, conditions make
sleeping and feeling at peace in his apartment challenging. Furthermore, some elder participants
who had secure housing described a loved one or a friend who was living with them on a tempo-
rary basis because they could not secure their own housing. Destiny, a -year-old African Amer-
ican woman, said, “I’m currently taking care of my disabled mother. She just lost her home, her
business, after  years.. . and she is now living with me in my one-bedroom.”
Younger participants also worried about securing housing and facing eviction. Shared housing
and co-ops played a key role in keeping them housed. Nevertheless, their housing situations were
precarious and often they had to rely on friends, parents, or social services for housing. Neil, a -
year-old nonbinary Caribbean person, relied on networks of queer BIPOC in the Oakland area.
They explained that their apartment, shared with two other housemates, was:
passed down through queer people, like QTPOC [Queer and Trans People of Color]
for like  years now. But I’m not even sure how feasible it’s going to be in the future,
because rent. And like my landlord transferred the ownership of the property to a
group in San Francisco. So I think they’re gonna start harassing us soon.
Participants often relied on support from relatives, friends, and public assistance to secure hous-
ing in the Bay Area. Those who did not have a lucrative job or family support were more likely to
rely on public housing after experiencing homelessness.
Fighting interlocking forms of oppression
In their interviews, participants were asked about their daily routines and their sense of con-
nection to people and communities. Our analysis suggests that connection with communities
and experiences with marginalization were often linked with dedication to social justice work
or activism (approximately % of Baby Boomers and % of Millennials). A commitment to
social justice work was more common among BIPOC participants compared to white participants
(approximately % of BIPOC participants compared to % of white participants).
Some participants described their commitment to social justice work in relation to experiences
of trauma and marginalization. For some participants, living through the AIDS epidemic was asso-
ciated with a call for action to join organizations to help others in their community who were suf-
fering. For people who were currently living with HIV, the trauma of the diagnosis was important
in facilitating care for others. Destiny, a -year-old African American woman living with HIV,
explained, “I keep speaking. I keep helping others. (sighing) Oh, that’s what gives me strength.”
Like Destiny, Sunshine, a -year-old African American woman, became committed to helping
younger generations as a result of her own experience living with HIV:
most of the time that I had HIV, I’ve been not accepting it. I was mostly in shock. I
didn’t take my medicine. I did everything that you wasn’t supposed to do. And then
when I got sick – ’cause I almost died – I was able to tell my family. And once I told
my family, it was like a relief; a pressure had gotten off of me. And then it was like,
Okay. I’m going to have this the rest of my life.. . So now, I want to advocate. I don’t
want anyone else to have to go through what I’m going through.
Ralph, who had experienced homelessness himself, became an expert in single room occupancy
laws and outreach with street youth. He explained:
I’m an expert in housing for homelessness, and we do all the SRO laws in San Fran-
cisco.. . I’ve been at the AIDS Foundation [for] years. .. there was this thing called the
Men’s Speed Project. They would work with men that did speed and their relationship
to catch HIV from using speed.
Baby Boomer participants who gave back through work in care professions were relatively
healthy and had stable housing. Their generativity and work helping others allowed them to
regain and sustain their strength and a sense of meaning after experiences with traumatic stress.
Our analysis suggests that an essential component of engaging in social activism and social
justice work was a sense of community belonging. Some participants, many of them young, dis-
cussed participation in activism and social justice work as part of their community engagement.
For instance, Kenny had a strong identification and involvement with the San Francisco leather
16 BEN HAGAI  .
community and as such, he spent many of his weekends volunteering for community events.
Janet, a -year-old, queer BIPOC woman, was another younger participant who talked about
engaging in activism, describing her strong connection with the San Francisco dyke and trans-
gender community:
I feel comfortable in my Dyke March community. I mentioned that I’m organizing
that, and it’s a good group of folks, and I love being around them...TheDyke March
works a lot with the Trans March. I found that our collaborative spaces are really
wonderful. I feel really comfortable there.
Like Janet, participants who described engagement in social justice work often described a
strong sense of community belonging. The social justice work issues participants became involved
in (such as AIDS advocacy, antieviction advocacy, trans, and queer liberation) were grounded in
complex intersections of oppressions, including homophobia, transphobia, economic marginal-
ization, and racism.
Findings from this research align with previous studies that indicate that LGBTQ white and
BIPOC people may frame sexual identity differently. As in the previous research, we found that
white participants tended to present sexual identity independently of other axes of identity, while
for BIPOC participants, sexual identity was more often presented in intersectional relationships
with their racial and gender identities or discussed in terms of behaviors rather than social cate-
gories (Bowleg et al., ; Cohen, ). This finding has important implications for how organi-
zations or programs define themselves in terms of LGBTQ identities. When organizations center
on a single identity axis (e.g., Gay and Lesbian Center), they may be less likely to attract and cre-
ate a sense of belonging among BIPOC LGBTQ people (Case, ; Cohen, ). As Audre Lorde
famously wrote, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live a single-
issue lives” (/). To increase solidarity among LGBTQ people of different positionalities,
LGBTQ organizations should address broader sociopolitical problems (e.g., homelessness, evic-
tion, and drug abuse).
In comparing sexual minorities of different generations, we found that increased visibility and
inclusion of transgender people has occurred alongside changes in how younger cisgender sex-
ual minorities comprehend their identity. Older participants tended to conflate SAB with gender
identity. Gender was articulated in terms of a binary opposition of men or women, and sexual
identities of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals were understood in terms of same-sex/gender
attraction and other-sex attraction. On the other hand, younger participants tended to make a
point of separating SAB, gender identity, and gender expression (e.g., “female divested feminin-
ity”). The proliferation of configurations between SAB, gender identity, and gender expression
was reflected in younger people’s propensity to use sexual identity terms that were not rooted in
binary genders. Many (but not all) younger participants preferred sexual identity terms, such as
queer and pansexual, that did not rely on binary gender identities. This finding has implications
for understanding processes of social change in recent decades in which queer and transgender
movements have increasingly dismantled binary understandings of gender and sexuality (Galupo
et al., ;Tateetal.,; Williams et al., in press).
Our analysis suggests that although the current social climate is more embracing of sexual
minorities compared to earlier decades (i.e., in terms of public support and legal recognition),
young LGBTQ people still experience homophobia in their homes and schools. Several of the
youth in our sample told stories of abusive conflict with their parents or getting kicked out
of foster home because of their sexual identity and gender nonconformity. Experiences with
homophobia in the home, racism, economic precarity, and housing insecurity are mutually rein-
forcing stressors rooted in interlocking systems of oppression for many LGBTQ people in the
Bay Area. The stresses of living with people who reject one’s sexual identity intensify when
LGBTQ people cannot afford a safe place to live outside of their family home. For BIPOC LGBTQ
people, racialized gentrification further restricts the range of spaces that feel affordable and
We found that younger LGBTQ people somewhat differed from their elders in that in their nar-
ratives they more often described support from institutional resources (gay and lesbian alliances,
teachers, therapists, mentors) when they experienced homophobia. Both older and young BIPOC
discussed experiences of racism and exotification as they entered dominant gay and lesbian com-
munities which typically centered white people. These findings highlight the importance of sus-
taining support for educators, mentors, social workers, and therapists who are BIPOC or who
can be allies to BIPOC LGBTQ youth who experience homophobia from families and friends and
racism from white LGBTQ communities. Importantly, LGBTQ mainstream institutions are envi-
ronments in which BIPOC, especially those who have less economic and/or housing security,
experience exclusion. We suggest that organizations consider LGBTQ identities and advocacy in
intersectional terms that support LGBTQ people who face racism and economic precarity. Specif-
ically, large umbrella organizations, such as LGBT centers, the Human Rights Campaign, or the
AIDS Foundation, should continue and enhance programs that bring together LGBTQ BIPOC
people (e.g., Black Brothers Esteem) and continue work to educate white LGBTQ people and
white people in general on the systematic oppression of BIPOC in the United States and ways
to combat this oppression.
Finally, in terms of activism, in agreement with research in psychology that suggests that part
of the process of trauma recovery is reconnection with community (Herman, ), we found that
older participants who had struggled with an HIV diagnosis, drug addiction, and/or homelessness
were especially motivated and committed to helping those who were currently struggling. For
younger LGBTQ participants, attachment and a sense belonging to a community were essential
to propelling them toward social justice work. Our findings highlight the ways in which experi-
ences with marginalization and trauma can be translated to motivation and energy for supporting
other community members who are dealing with life-threatening illness, addiction, and/or home-
lessness. This finding is aligned with radical healing frameworks grounded in liberation psychol-
ogy that demonstrate the collective nature of healing. A radical healing perspective understands
healing as grounded in the formation of critical consciousness, hope, and healing communities
(French et al., ; Ginwright, ). Many of the elders in our sample were involved in orga-
nizing and sustaining communities in which survivors came to reflect, support, and heal together
with others. The energy of survivors to form community spaces that help in healing and protect
youth in their community should be harnessed by local organizations and nonprofits fighting the
spread of HIV, homelessness, and addiction.
18 BEN HAGAI  .
We do not claim that our findings can be generalized to other samples of participants, for instance,
those who live in areas that have higher levels of homophobia, in rural areas, or in settings with a
markedly different social safety net. Furthermore, we approach this analysis with intersectional
theory and queer thought (Balzer Carr et al., , Cohen, ;Cole,). As such, we focused
on interlocking forms of oppression, including homophobia and heteronormativity, racism, and
economic precarity, brought on by capitalism in constructing LGBTQ identities across different
generations. If we were situated in another theoretical paradigm (e.g., minority stress theory), we
may have focused on other themes in our data. Additionally, while many themes we highlight are
associated with specific interview questions, the themes related to support from others to combat
homophobia and motivation to participate in social justice work were inferred from analysis of
how participants talked about their lives more generally. Future research should focus on relation-
ships between marginalization, oppression, trauma, and sense of community in leading LGBTQ
people to engage in social justice work. Our sample was constituted by a wide range of people
from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, and we grouped together people from Indigenous,
African American, Latinx, and Asian American backgrounds in comparisons to white people,
because their identities are all shaped by white supremacy. Nevertheless, there are important dif-
ferences in the histories and current realities of members of these groups that we did not register
in this research. Furthermore, we grouped together people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisex-
ual because these groups are all oppressed by homophobia and heteronormativity; nevertheless,
there are important ways that sexism and biphobia shape differently the experiences of gay, les-
bian, and bisexual people. Finally, our research included trans* identified people who identified as
gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Our analysis did not account for the complex oppression of trans* people
who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual and the complexity of their relationship with cis-gender
gay and lesbian communities. Research rooted in an intersectional approach should examine the
experiences of nonbinary and transgender people who are part of sexual minority communities.
Our research findings stress the need for LGBTQ organizations and scholarship to adopt an inter-
sectional lens that does not center sexual identity as the primary aspect of identification mean-
ingful to all LGBTQ people. Furthermore, our findings together with other studies suggest that
even as positive public opinion and legal recognition have increased for LGBTQ people, homopho-
bia persists. Young adults who are rejected by parents and friends rely on organizations like Gay
and Straight Alliances and institutional agents, such as teachers, therapists, and mentors. These
institutional agents should receive sustained monetary support because homophobia is still per-
sistent in many family homes. In addition to strengthening schools and mental health support for
LGBTQ people, budget for housing for LGBTQ youth is essential because they may be pushed out
of their foster care families or risk staying in unsafe family homes. Policies that can protect renters
and low-to-moderate-income home owners from displacement—such as eviction moratoriums,
rent control, regulations promoting equitable and nonpredatory lending practices, limitations on
extreme income inequality—are all critical to supporting and empowering diverse LGBTQ com-
munities (Bullock et al. in press). Finally, our intersectional analysis highlights the importance
of recruiting the energies of older people, including those with life experience as survivors of
homelessness, drug addictions, and AIDS, who are dedicated to disrupting cycles of trauma and
improving the lives of others. To combat the interlocking forms of oppression, psychologists
should highlight and support the work of intersectional LGBTQ organizations (e.g., Black Broth-
ers Esteem, Queers for Economic Justice, and the Audre Lorde Project) that take an intersectional
approach against homophobia and transphobia without decentering struggles for racial and eco-
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22 BEN HAGAI  .
ELLA BEN HAGAI was trained in anthropology at the London School of Economics and in
psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. at the University
of California, Santa Cruz. She is an Assistant Professor at California State University, Fuller-
ton. Her research broadly focuses on processes that lead individuals to develop intersectional
consciousness. Recent theoretical publications explore intersections between queer and trans*
thought and psychological research. Much of her empirical research examines the sociopsy-
chological processes that lead non-Palestinians to act in solidarity with Palestine.
RACHELLE ANNECHINO is a researcher at the Center for Critical Public Health and
PIRE/Prevention Research Center, where she works primarily on ethnographically oriented,
mixed methods studies that investigate social contexts of substance use. Her work focuses on
how sociotechnological practices can support or inhibit health equity and institutional trust.
She has a master’s degree from the School of Information at the University of California,
NICHOLAS YOUNG is an Ed.M. candidate in school psychology in the Department of Health
and Behavior Studies at Columbia University. He received his BA in psychology from Benning-
ton College.
TAMAR M.J. ANTIN is the Director of the Center for Critical Public Health and Principal
Investigator of the study “LGBT Adults and Tobacco Stigma: A Qualitative Study” (grant
# RCA-). Her research is broadly focused on health inequities and specifically
investigates the intersections between health-related stigmas (e.g., the stigma of being a
smoker) and other social identity stigmas (e.g., ethnicity, sexuality, social class, and/or gen-
der). Tamar received her Master’s degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of
Maryland, College Park and a Doctor of Public Health from the University of California,
Berkeley. Her expertise lies in critical studies of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; multi-
ple method approaches to qualitative research; theory-driven qualitative data analysis; and
How to cite this article: Ben Hagai E, Annechino R, Young N, Antin T. Intersecting
sexual identities, oppressions, and social justice work: Comparing LGBTQ Baby Boomers
to Millennials who came of age after the s AIDS epidemic. Journal of Social Issues.
... LGBTQ community and lesbian communities in particular serve as a protective factor for young people dealing with both internalized homophobia and the stressors of family rejection and J o u r n a l P r e -p r o o f discrimination [37,38]. However, a great deal of research suggests that when discussing LGBTQ communities in an abstract manner or in terms of institutions (bars, events, and LGBT centers) many lesbian women experience the community as a stressor [39,40,41]. It appears that increased diversity and multiplicity in lesbian identities make alienation from lesbian communities more frequent. ...
... It appears that increased diversity and multiplicity in lesbian identities make alienation from lesbian communities more frequent. Participants across different studies on lesbian communities report that a sense of similarity and support are essential components of the lesbian community they seek [40,41,43]. Because similarity and support are central to community formation, people who do not feel they fit the prototypical image of lesbians, which includes being gender nonconforming, only attracted to other women, and being out, are more likely to feel depression and anxiety because of their atypicality [42]. ...
... Because similarity and support are central to community formation, people who do not feel they fit the prototypical image of lesbians, which includes being gender nonconforming, only attracted to other women, and being out, are more likely to feel depression and anxiety because of their atypicality [42]. Additionally, experiences with racism in predominantly white lesbian communities in which African American women are seen as a threat or are hypersexualized and objectified lead Black lesbians to feel alienated from the lesbian community [40,41]. Moreover, increasingly lesbians may hold a post-gay understanding of their sexual identity and not see their lesbian identity as an important marker to commune around [44]. ...
Full-text available
A review of influential research on lesbian identity since the turn of the 21st century suggests changes in the experience and meaning of lesbian identity and community. The journey of adolescent women to lesbian identity is marked by an exploration of attractions and sexual behavior with people of different genders. Whereas some lesbians come to see their identity as immutable, others see it as fluid. With shifts in political goals and the dismantling of the gender binary, the meaning of lesbian identity is contested. The multiplicity in meaning and differences among lesbian women challenges a sense of belonging in lesbian communities, nevertheless, the centrality of lesbian friendship and networks of care sustain lesbians across their life span.
... The intersections of interlocking forms of oppression configure sexual identities and desires in unique manners. Intersectional research in psychology plays an important role in dismantling a unitary notion of gay and lesbian identity (Bowleg, 2013;Ben Hagai et al., 2020). It also provides an insightful analysis of how political and economic processes under neoliberal governance shape women's sexuality (Bay-Cheng & Eliseo-Arras, 2008). ...
... In another study with diverse LGBTQ+ people living in the San Francisco Bay Area (Ben Hagai et al., 2020), participants of color tended to reject sexual identity terms because they 25 felt those were rooted in a white cultural understanding of gayness that was foreign to them. As one African American participant who is a long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay area "Gay Mecca" explained. ...
... But, I'm identified as a young, Black man, as a Christian that loves another young, Black man that's a Christian. Boom (Ben Hagai et al., 2020 p. 61). ...
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In this chapter on sexuality, we examine three foundational postulations from queer theory. The first postulation is that the historical construction of sexuality, and same-sex desire in particular, tends to be based on binary thinking that positions same-sex desire as either universal (a “universalizing” view of same-sex sexuality) or as a disposition common to a minority of the population (a “minoritizing” view of same-sex sexuality). In contrast, queer theory moves away from a binary view of sexuality to conceptualize it as fluid. The second postulation is that people’s sexuality is shaped by interlocking forms of oppression such as colonialism, racism, sexism, and class oppression. The intersections of interlocking forms of oppression configure sexual identities and desires in unique ways. The third postulation is the rejection of a hierarchy of sexual practices and a focus on the proliferation of sexual categories to disrupt that hierarchy. We juxtapose these three key ideas with a review of critical psychology research, showing how psychological studies moved from a universalizing to a minoritizing view of same-sex desire, with a recent turn back towards the universalizing approach. We describe psychological contributions on the manner in which LGBTQ identities are different among people of color compared to white people as well as research that examines the influence of neoliberal ideology on sexual agency. We explore recent psychological studies related to BDSM and kink, polyamory, and asexuality. Assessing the convergence and divergence between psychology and queer thought leads us to critique the notion that a proliferation of sexual identities is necessarily libratory; instead, we argue for a more intersectional approach to sexual identities.
... As the queer and transgender movement continues to proliferate into many different ways of life and identity categories (Halberstam, 2017;Rubin, 1984), it is essential to continue to think about queer and transgender identity intersectionality (Cohen, 1997;Combahee River Collective, 1983;Ben Hagai et al., 2020). "Queer" and "transgender" should be sustained as umbrella terms that bring together many different kinds of identities and life paths (Cohen, 1997(Cohen, , 1999. ...
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In this concluding chapter we discuss some of the insights gained from juxtaposing three eclectic fields of knowledge: queer studies, transgender theory, and psychological research. Because the queer and transgender projects are political projects, in this conclusion we focus on understanding the processes that may lead to fragmentation within the queer and transgender movement as well as processes that are associated with continued solidarity activism among an increasing number of queer and transgender identities. To examine processes of intragroup conflict and solidarity activism we juxtapose research in social psychology, Black psychology, and contributions by queer thinkers in promoting community norms that support activism, dialogue, and solidarity.
... According to Strauss et al. (2020), familial engagement is represented by openness and sensitivity to the demands of a child. As LGBTQ adolescents feel welcomed and respected, they are more likely to reveal their non-normative identities to family members (Hagai et al., 2020;Endo, 2021). Nevertheless, a huge percentage of LGBTQ adolescents are homeless, indicating that family exclusion is a major risk factor for poor psychological wellbeing (Travers et al., 2020;MacMullin et al., 2021). ...
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For scholars, practitioners, and legislators concerned about sexual minority adolescents, one of the main goals is to create more positive and inclusive learning environments for this minority group. Numerous factors, such as repeated patterns of homophobic bullying by classmates and others in school, have been a significant barrier to achieving this goal. In addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) adolescents encounter substantial inequality across a broad spectrum of wellbeing and education consequences. Compared with their heterosexual counterparts, LGBTQ adolescents experience more anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, antisocial behavior, poorer academic performance, less school attachment and protection, and a weaker desire to finish their studies. Such discrepancies based on gender and sexuality were linked to more maltreatment encountered by LGBTQ adolescents. It is crucial to recognize the backgrounds and expectations of LGBTQ adolescents to offer them the best resources. To overcome the inequality and obstacles faced by these LGBTQ adolescents, it is essential to examine tools and techniques that can be utilized. This study examined the literature that explains why society fails to provide enough support to LGBTQ students. Specifically, mechanisms explaining how LGBTQ adolescents interact with others in the learning environment and how such discrepancies arise will be examined. Following that, violence and prejudice, which are fundamental causes of psychological problems among LGBTQ adolescents, will be explored. This review paper thus provides supportive strategies for schools to develop more inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ adolescents.
... He subsequently focused his activism on HIV/ AIDS research, education, and treatment. In 1987, he publicly declared he had AIDS on Good Morning America, and continued to participate in demonstrations for LGBTQ+ rights (Hagai et al., 2020;Hippler, 1989;Natale et al., 2010). Matlovich's last public speech in 1988 during an HIV/AIDS demonstration in Sacramento stated: ...
Critical events in Leonard Matlovich’s life depict a reluctant activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/gender diverse, and queer+ (LGBTQ+) equality. He served in the US military and subsequently came to personify the broad social challenges to the military’s homophobic culture and recruitment practices. Matlovich’s experience of a series of life metamorphoses made a difference beyond the individual. His example inspired multitudes of other concerned citizens in how to undertake their metamorphoses to challenge institutionalized homophobia. Breakthrough learning experiences in Matlovich’s life are presented to explore and refine aspects of transformative learning theory by applying Jane Martin’s metamorphosis model. The learning nexus between individuals and society is shown to be a dynamic interaction where both aspects of Matlovich’s story and his influence are explored in the context of today’s LGBTQ+ equality struggles. The article shows the conducive personal and societal conditions that enabled his various metamorphoses as whole-of-individual identity and sociocultural crossings toward transformational change. Additionally, the implications of Martin’s educational metamorphosis are discussed. Adult educators are encouraged to emphasize learning located in the learner’s life circumstances, exemplary case studies to inspire cultural crossings against injustice, and transformations as being about grasping in situ learning opportunities in the cross-influence between the whole person and their socio-historical context. Matlovich’s experiences show how relevant dimensions of Martin’s theoretical approach, coupled with support from allies, can contribute to personal agency and can build a groundswell of learning needed to support activism for social justice movements.
In this chapter, I contend that Queer Phenomenology provides us with a way to move beyond an inclusion and diversity framing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) sex workers where their bodies are thought to be governable and need to be realigned within spaces. To enhance the understanding of sex work in the tourism industry in Botswana, data were collected from 20 male sex workers (MSWs) servicing tourists. The in-depth interviews focused on how the discourses of gender and sexuality were experienced. The study revealed that due to the homophobic nature of Botswana, participants made several trips per week to Johannesburg, South Africa, to provide sex services to male tourists from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Tourists from these destinations emerged as a niche clientele for male sex workers from Botswana. This study provides valuable insights regarding individual male sex workers, whether identifying as LGBT or ‘very’ straight, and their relation to space (the Botswana local dynamics). These insights allow scholars to move beyond simplistic approaches in examining how categories such as ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and disability are navigated in a tourism context without rendering others invisible. Specifically, so, in contexts where male sex work commonality resides less in a shared identity and more in a shared alterity.KeywordsQueering spacesSex tourismSexualityTourismLGBTQBotswana
In the present review, the author draws upon Bell's (1987) critical race theory – especially as reflected in Crenshaw's (1989) construct of intersectionality – en route to examining the results of four studies of international relationship processes that have been published since 2002 (i.e., Holzapfel et al., 2018; Kaya et al., 2019; Kuramoto, 2018 and van Mol & de Valk, 2016). One common theme that emerged from the four studies was the importance of satisfaction‐related processes in international relationships – a theme that Thibaut and Kelley's (1959) interdependence theory would anticipate within intranational and international relationships alike. Although persons from African, Central American, and South American nations are conspicuously missing from the studies in question, the author does not attribute such omissions to structural racism. Implications for future research on inclusivity and the dynamics of international relationships are discussed.
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In this chapter we juxtapose a queer theory formulation of gender with theories and research in the psychology and sociology of gender. Our discussion focuses on ideas from Judith Butler’s foundational book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. We discuss three key ideas found in Butler’s early work. The first key idea is Butler’s rejection of a distinction between sex as “natural” and gender as “cultural” which connects to their development of a performativity theory of gender. The second key idea is Butler’s formulation of the heterosexual matrix and its inherent instability, in which heterosexuality is dependent for its identity on the rejection of homosexuality. The third idea we discuss is Butler’s insight that a reconfiguration and proliferation of gender identities can be effectively used to dismantle gender and sexual binaries. We draw connections between each of these postulations and empirical research: on the relationship between biology and genders, on the internalization of gender schemas, and on the development of masculine heterosexual identity. We conclude with a review of psychological research on gender nonbinary and agender identities, and gender fluidity.
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The central question of this Element is this: What does it mean to be transgender - in general and in specific ways? What does the designation mean for any individual and for the groups in which the individual exists? Biologically, what occurs? Psychologically, what transpires? The Element starts with the basics. The authors question some traditional assumptions, lay out some bio-medical information, and define their terms. They then move to the question of central concern, seen first in terms of the individual and then in terms of the group or society. They conclude with some implications, urging some new approaches to research and suggest some applications in the classroom and beyond.
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Bi-erasure and color-blind racial ideologies (CBRI) are two systems of oppression that that create barriers to wellness for bisexual+ people of Color and Indigenous People (bi+ POCI) (Elia, 2014; Neville, Awad, Brooks, Flores, & Bluemel, 2013). The authors posited that, for college students, these forms of invisibility may be experienced in campus wellness support centers, including university counseling centers, multicultural centers, and centers for sexual and gender diversity. The authors explored the extent to which these wellness support centers’ web-based messages (e.g., identity-based group offering across centers, counseling staff interests listed in biographies, counseling center based resource lists) erase or affirm bi+ POCI. This content analysis, guided by Neuendorf’s (2011) methodology, was delimited to universities who have APA-accredited counseling centers (N=139). Findings revealed that none of these centers’ websites housed messages acknowledging bi+ POCI specifically, disparate affirmation was offered to POCI as compared to LGBT students through staff biographies irrespective of university type, and minority-serving institutions affirmed POCI and LGBT-identified POCI through their web-based resource lists at significantly higher rates than historically White institutions. These and other finding are discussed in the context of intersectionality and practical recommendations to increase the visibility of bi+ POCI are offered.
This qualitative study examines the development of intersectional solidarity among organizers of an academic workers’ union. Participants were 12 union organizers who participated in semistructured, in-depth interviews. This research is value-driven, examining in context how community organizers address the reproduction of systems of oppression (e.g., racism, sexism) in order to build power and make socially just change. Respectful and supportive relationships were required for participants to understand and make sense of their complicity in systems of oppression in proactive and potentially transformative ways. Additionally, individuals’ understanding of their complicity with oppressive structures occurred in a visceral, embodied manner. Thus, two overlapping practices, supportive relational labor and corporeal literacy, form the basis of a praxis model for intersectional solidarity. This study concludes with implications for organizing practices and organizations, which focus on accountability practices and praxis among group members. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Interdisciplinary intersectionality scholars have highlighted that stereotypes are a central basis for intersectional oppression, and psychologists are increasingly incorporating intersectional theory into stereotypes research. In striving to embrace intersectionality's radical core by applying several of its guiding premises, we explored the perspectives of young Black and Latinx individuals in New York City on sexual stereotypes of Black and Latinx women and men. We conducted 11 focus groups with 75 participants. Using a combined deductive and inductive approach to thematic analysis, we found that many subthemes reflected participants identifying content of, sources of, and responses to sexual stereotypes that were consistent with and supported by an intersectional analysis and approach. These subthemes highlighted sexual stereotypes’ roots in long-standing interlocking systems of power and oppression and societal institutions, that stereotypes/oppression can also become internalized within individuals and communities, as well as the power and strength of participants and their communities in coping with and resisting sexual stereotypes and oppression. Findings suggest specific ways psychologists can incorporate intersectional inquiry and praxis to address sexual stereotypes as a critical social issue, in collaboration with oppressed communities and social movements struggling for justice and liberation. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
This study puts forth a critical deconstructed quantitative analysis process that systematically interrogated elements of a quantitative study (research questions/hypotheses, sample, measures, analysis, interpretation) in an effort to evaluate and improve intersectional research on sexual and gender minority stress and mental health. Our quantitative study used minority stress processes (anticipated discrimination, social support) as indirect explanations for mental health disparities found between: (1) sexual and gender minorities (n = 167), and (2) sexual minorities only (n = 148) and explored community connectedness as a moderator of these processes. We then applied Cole's (2009) intersectionality framework questions in our critical deconstructed analysis to evaluate our study. Our quantitative results revealed sexual and gender minorities (compared to sexual minorities only) were at risk for worse mental health due to increased exposure to minority stress processes. However, findings were tempered by limitations, which became evident when systematically evaluating our study using an intersectionality framework. We offer recommendations for future minority stress research and policy, including that researchers implement a critical deconstructed quantitative analysis a priori when designing quantitative studies, in order to better apply an intersectionality framework and improve research. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
A network of interlocking systems of racialized, classed, and gendered oppression contributes to the “feminization of homelessness.” Unequal and low pay, unpaid caregiving, lack of affordable housing, discrimination, a weak safety net, punitive welfare and public housing policies, and intimate partner violence (IPV) are among the many factors that contribute to women's homelessness. Despite their intersections, these factors are often considered in isolation. Arguing for movement away from single-axis conceptualizations of women's homelessness, we offer an intersectional analysis of mothers’ pathways into homelessness that foregrounds structural inequalities, highlights relational power dynamics, and reveals multilevel intersections of identity and experience. Drawing on two complementary interview studies, we explore two interrelated pathways into homelessness: (1) IPV as a gendered, racialized, and classed experience that contributes to economic and housing precarity; and (2) intersections of weak and restrictive safety net programs with raced, classed, and gendered “discipline.” We trace how privilege and disadvantage cumulate across women's lives and how institutional and relational power intersect with common “shocks” (e.g., eviction, loss of employment). We attend closely to the racialized and gendered dynamics of economic abuse; how gender, race, class, and motherhood shape pathways into homelessness; and how these intersections inform institutional responses to economic and housing precarity. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
In this introduction to the special issue on Applications of Intersectionality to Critical Social Issues, we assert that a psychological study of social issues that seeks to move toward social justice, equity, and liberation must embrace intersectionality's radical core. This requires constant critical inquiry and praxis centered on power, including how we shape power and how power shapes us. The both/and logics of intersectionality are particularly essential, as we can exist in both oppressive and liberatory ecosystems simultaneously, and we must reflect and act on this to achieve intersectionality's transformative potential. We outline ways that the articles in this special issue offer ways of “doing” intersectionality in psychology and allied fields, while also acknowledging the issue's limitations and potential replication of the status quo. We also offer personal reflections on our journeys with intersectionality in hopes of contributing to radical transformation of ourselves, our disciplines, social issues, and the world. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
We utilize intersectionality as the framework for analyzing and critiquing the literature on the intergenerational transmission of trauma in early childhood. In particular, we assess the extent to which the literature replicates the oppression of marginalized and minoritized children and families by deemphasizing traumas and traumatic processes that are attributable to interlocking systems of oppression. In addition, building on the emphasis on systems that is central to intersectionality, we assess the degree to which the literature engages with trauma perpetrated through formal social systems. We assert that an intersectional lens demands acknowledgement of state-perpetrated violence and that this acknowledgment is absent from the extant literature. To illustrate our argument, we present three structural analyses (“cases”) of state-perpetrated violence, leveraging life course theory and theories of historical and cultural trauma in addition to intersectionality theory to draw inferences about the intergenerational impacts of these cases. Through our analysis, we demonstrate how efforts to reduce contemporary state-perpetrated violence and repair the effects of historical state-perpetrated violence are well aligned with ongoing efforts in the public policy arena at promoting early childhood mental health and family thriving. We close with a proposed agenda for better integrating such efforts into research and policy. © 2020 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Advancing beyond individual-level approaches to coping with racial trauma, we introduce a new psychological framework of radical healing for People of Color and Indigenous individuals (POCI) in the United States. We begin by providing a context of race and racism in the United States and its consequences for the overall well-being of POCI. We build on existing frameworks rooted in social justice education and activism and describe a form of healing and transformation that integrates elements of liberation psychology, Black psychology, ethnopolitical psychology, and intersectionality theory. We briefly review these conceptual foundations as a prelude to introducing a psychological framework of radical healing and its components grounded in five anchors including: (a) collectivism, (b) critical consciousness, (c) radical hope, (d) strength and resistance, and (e) cultural authenticity and self-knowledge. We conclude with a discussion of the applications of radical healing to clinical practice, research, training, and social justice advocacy.