Exploring the Agency of Black LGBTQ+ Youth in Schools and in NYC’s Ballroom Culture

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In recent years, youth agency has become more prevalent in education research, with many scholars agreeing that youth agency is highly contextual, reliant on multiple forces, and inextricably connected to social identity. However, relatively few studies have explored the agency of Black LGBTQ+ youth and how these youth understand their own agency. This fact connects to the reality that although there is a growing body of research around the educational experiences of LGBTQ+ youth of color, it is often centered on their victimhood and rarely explores how they practice agency to respond to the challenges they face.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:
Recognizing the importance of context and social identity with regard to youth agency, this study extends the literature on youth agency and LGBTQ+ youth of color by exploring the following research question: How do eight Black LGBTQ+ youth who are active members in New York City’s ballroom culture make sense of their agency in school and in out-of-school ballroom spaces?
Data Collection and Analysis:
Following Seidman’s (2013) interview process, three separate interviews were conducted with all eight youth. In addition, all eight youth participated in two focus groups. The data analysis was informed by a queer of color critique theoretical framework and focused on specific occurrences in the data in which the young people articulated understandings of their agentive practices that worked toward responding to, resisting, or subverting racial and anti-LGBTQ+ marginalization across schooling and ballroom contexts.
Findings indicate that the youth regarded school as a confining space in which they were fearful of anti-LGBTQ+ rejection and abuse. Thus, they used their agency to suppress their LGBTQ+ identities in order to minimize their experiences with discrimination. Suppressing their identities resulted in the youth feeling disconnected from school and isolated, and increased their risk for depression and anxiety. Contrastingly, the youth understood ballroom as a liberatory space in which they felt able to confidently explore and express their LGBTQ+ identities and create alternatives for themselves outside socially constructed expectations of their identities.
Results suggest that Black LGBTQ+ youth are always practicing agency, albeit to work toward different ends, such as occulting or exploring their LGBTQ+ identities. Findings suggest that schools can learn from ballroom spaces how to better invite Black LGBTQ+ youth into schools in humane and educative ways, encourage their agentive imaginations within education spaces, and promote liberatory school environments that recognize and embrace these youth’s racial, gender, and sexual identities.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92
Number of pages117
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2 2022


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