The relationship between spirituality and sexual identity among lesbian and gay undergraduate students: A qualitative analysis
Johnson, Danielle Marie
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Within higher education today, the student population in American colleges and universities is becoming increasingly diverse, relative to students' racial/ethnic, sexual, religion, and gender identities. Specifically, students who identify as Lesbian and gay are more often seeking personal authenticity and opportunities to make meaning of their sexual identity. However, there is relatively little research on Lesbian and gay college students in higher education, particularly as it relates to religion and spirituality. This study, focusing on Lesbian and gay undergraduate college students, explored how they 1) defined spirituality; 2) described their own sexual identity; and 3) determined whether spirituality played a role in their sexual identity development. A local sample of 24 Lesbian and gay college students were interviewed, of whom 10 were discussed within this dissertation study. Each student participated in open-ended in-depth interviews, which were immediately transcribed. As interviews were coded based on recurring topics, a coding dictionary was created, which was used to identify common themes within the data. Upon analysis of the data, four themes emerged from the in-depth interviews. The first theme, Spirituality as an Evolving Experience, focused on the students' perceptions of spirituality and focuses on how religion played a role in their definitions as a significant aspect of their self-identity. The second theme, Sexual Identity as Continuous and Varied, described the ongoing nature of the "coming out" process, as well as the varied salient levels of sexual identity embraced by the Lesbian and gay participants. The third theme, Challenging Religious Homophobia, focused on homophobia as perceived and experienced through the various religious doctrines and organizations. The fourth theme, The Dynamics of Family Interaction, described the feelings and emotions that participants' parents experienced as their children came out to them as Lesbian and gay individuals. The implications of this study are discussed, focusing on the opportunities to engage Lesbian and gay students in discussions about spirituality, offering support to religiously identified Lesbian and gay college students, and offering support to the parents of Lesbian and gay students. In summary, this study contributes to the limited existing literature that explores the lived experiences of Lesbian and gay college students, specifically within the context of spiritual development.