The lived experience of safety among LGBTQ youth : a hermeneutic phenomenology
Increasingly, LGBTQ youth are subjected to higher rates of violence, mental health issues, and homelessness than heterosexual youth. Objective data validates that mental health issues are higher among LGBTQ youth than heterosexual youth due to a lack of subjective emotional and physical safety. Researchers seek data about perceptions of safety through close-ended questions. However, we do not know what safety means to LGBTQ youth. To my knowledge, there is no identified definition of safety among LGBTQ youth. Not knowing the meaning of safety for LGBTQ youth leads to assumptions on the part of teachers, school officials, and healthcare providers. The specific aim of this study was to explore the lived experience of safety as defined by LGBTQ youth. A qualitative descriptive study design following an interpretive hermeneutic phenomenological methodology was used to explore the lived experiences of safety among LGBTQ youth. Eleven LGBTQ informants ages 18 to 23 provided data on the concept of safety using their language and definitions through in-depth interviews. The data retrieved from this project provided a rich description of the definition and lived experience of “safety” for LGBTQ youth. Findings of this research study provided a definition of safety among LGBTQ youth as being nonjudgmental, unconditional connectedness with others. I identified nine dominant themes leading to a detailed description of the lived experience of safety among LGBTQ youth. The nine themes were: mental health; hiding; connections and relationships; community; family; gender identity; sexuality; coming out; and school. All the informants discussed issues within the dominant themes. A dominant metaphor of a lock and “turning the key until it clicks” was envisaged to facilitate the synthesis of the data and create a flow between the themes. Recommendations for practice, policy, and future research are discussed.