Sexual orientation disclosure among Latinx sexual minority high school and college youth: An interview with Zhenqiang Zhao

Adolescence is an important time of identity development and exploration. It is also a time of self-disclosure with regard to sexual orientation. Zhenqiang Zhao’s 2021 paper, Sexual orientation disclosure among Latinx sexual minority high school and college youth, examines how minority stressors might mediate the link between sexual orientation disclosure and elements of well-being, including depressive symptoms and self-esteem, in a sample of Latinx youth.

 Zhenqiang kindly took the time to answer our questions about the associations found between youths’ sexual orientation disclosure, minority stressors, and well-being.

1. What is the main takeaway of your article? 

Our study has two major takeaways. First, we found that coming out to classmates contributed to higher levels of depressive symptoms in Latinx LGBQ+ youth, after accounting for experiences of homophobic victimization and internalized homonegativity (i.e., the negative attitudes that LGBQ+ people hold toward their own sexuality). This finding is in contrast to prior studies with predominantly White LGBQ+ youth, where victimization and internalized homonegativity fully explained associations between coming out and depressive symptoms. This finding highlights that Latinx LGBQ+ youth may experience additional challenges disclosing their sexual orientation, especially in the school context.

Second, we found that Latinx LGBQ+ youth in college are more likely to internalize homophobic victimization compared to those in high school, highlighting the importance of creating and maintaining supportive school climates for Latinx LGBQ+ youth, especially in college when youth have more autonomy in selecting their peer groups.

2. What questions does this paper address? Why were these questions important?

We addressed two major questions: 1) whether coming out to classmates contributed to lower self‐esteem and higher depressive symptoms via higher levels of sexual orientation‐based victimization and higher levels of internalized homonegativity; and 2) whether these associations operated similarly for students in high school and college.

These questions tried to unpack how coming out to classmates contributes to Latinx LGBQ+ youths’ psychological well-being, highlighting unique experiences among Latinx LGBQ+ youth, which have been overlooked in the literature. These questions are also important as they highlight the need to foster inclusive and supportive school climates for underrepresented populations.

3. What do you wish more people knew about this topic? 

Even though LGBTQ+ people have become more visible and accepted in society, disparities between “straight” and LGBTQ+ people are not decreasing significantly. Studies continue to document that LGBTQ+ youth encounter unique difficulties compared to their heterosexual peers. More knowledge is needed about the coming out experiences of LGBQ+ youth, especially for those with multiple marginalized identities (e.g., youth of color, gender minority). We hope our study can increase the awareness of unique barriers that LGBQ+ youth encounter that contribute to their well-being, and our focus on Latinx youth is significant given that much of the literature has focused on the experiences of predominately White samples.

4. Are there any papers, videos, blog posts, etc. that you would recommend to readers who are interested in this topic? 

We recently published another paper about how intrapersonal (sexual identity, romantic attraction, sexual orientation centrality) and interpersonal (social attitudes) factors influence coming out experiences among Latinx LGBQ+ youth in various social contexts (family, classmates, school adults). We found that, across social contexts, interpersonal factors play salient roles in coming out to others among Latinx LGBQ+ youth.

Other resources for LGBTQ+ students about coming out include:

Coming Out: A Resource for LGBTQ Students by GLSEN

Coming Out: A Handbook for LGBTQ Young People

Coming Out: Living Authentically as LGBTQ Latinx Americans

5. What are you most excited to see in this field in the future? What questions are you particularly excited to get answers to? 

Coming out is theorized and traditionally viewed as a critical experience in sexual orientation development. Existing studies on LGBQ+ populations tend to focus on people who have already shared their sexual orientation with others. Youth who have not disclosed their sexual orientation to others may not share similar experiences or developmental trajectories. Thus, we would like to see more studies on how and why LGBQ+ youth decide to share their sexual orientation with others versus decide to keep that information to themselves, with a specific focus on youth who decide to not disclose their sexual orientation to others. Specifically, we would like to know what the unique challenges and barriers are for youth who are “in the closet”, and how we can better support them regardless of their coming out status.

6. Do you have any other information you would like to add about your study’s findings? 

Whereas our study examined the negative contributions of coming out, we believe it is also important to study the positive aspects of coming out among Latinx LGBQ+ youth. In order to support LGBTQ+ youth, especially those with multiple minority identities, it is important to know how we can (a) help them avoid the negative consequences of coming out but also (b) how we can help them thrive throughout the coming out process.


Author: Zhenqiang Zhao

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