LGBTQ access to generalized youth development programs
Keywords:4-H, LGBTQ, Inclusion, Diversity, Youth Development
As the largest youth development organization in the United States, 4-H may be uniquely positioned to meet the needs of rural LGBTQ youth. 4-H has undergone a significant shift towards increasing access, equity, and belonging for youth over the last ten years. However, there is a specific need for research that considers the unique experiences of LGBTQ youth in accessing 4-H in their home communities, and a need for theory to guide research and policy-making decisions in 4-H among other generalized youth development organizations. This qualitative research study proposes a theoretical model of the affordances and constraints rural LGBTQ youth encounter in accessing 4-H. Interviews were conducted with former 4-H members and analysis was informed by grounded theory. Findings suggest that rural LGBTQ youth are influenced by cultures of place, family, community, and rurality. These cultures give rise to certain agricultural traditions and values, youths’ personal interests, a gendered and sexualized coding of interests, low tolerance for difference, and a lack of queer community. The resulting tensions between affordances and constraints shape youth involvement patterns, and give rise to unique cultures around queerness in 4-H. The theoretical model developed from this research provides a novel way of considering how rural LGBTQ youth access generalized youth development programs, and the factors that inform decisions to be involved in out-of-school programs such as 4-H.