When LGTBQ+ youth are kicked out of their home by their parents, where do they turn?
Trinity sociology and anthropology professor Amy Stone, Ph.D. has won a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to examine one possible answer to that question: Stone, in partnership with Professor Brandon Robinson at UC-Riverside, will examine the effect of non-parental family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the like) on housing instability among LGBTQ+ youth.
Stone says that for both researchers, this question started out as a personal one.
“When Brandon and I looked at our own lives, and we looked at how the people around us that we knew got kicked out for being LGBTQ, everyone lived with their grandparents. They had a relative who was so supportive, and they went and moved in with them,” Stone says. “We want to do this study to see if you have other non-parental family members who are super-supportive, does that protect you from homelessness?
While many other studies of youth focus mostly on quantitative questions about family support, Stone says their team is looking forward to conducting a study using qualitative, in-person interviews.
“I’ve been really struck by how little we know about the impact extended family members, especially grandparents or siblings, have on alleviating housing insecurity. I was really interested in looking at a project that followed particularly younger LGBTQ+ youth as they became adults. When you're 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, so much of your life is constantly changing. [LGTBQ+ youth] have the most residential instability during that time and were more likely to live in multiple places in one year.”
Stone, along with their lab of five full-time Trinity undergraduate researchers, is starting the process of setting up interviews with 80 survey participants. There will be 40 based in South Texas and 40 from the inland empire of Southern California—“very close to where I grew up,” Stone adds.
Study participants will be LGBTQ+ youth who are housing dependent, meaning specifically that don't pay rent and are living with their family members, friends, or parents temporarily. “Those are people we see as being vulnerable to being unhoused,” Stone explains.
Right now, the plan is for Stone’s team to interview these youth monthly for the next 14 months, the duration of the NSF study. But Stone is also looking at—hopefully—extending the study to three years. “We're going to be keeping close contact with these 80 folks, and seeing how things unfold for them,” they say.
Stone says they’ll be leaning on Trinity’s strong tradition of undergraduate research, as all interviews will be done by current students. There will also be a research assistant working with the team, as well as opportunities for newly-graduated Trinity students to work full-time on the study, which Stone says is a great opportunity for those seeking to further their education in graduate school.
David Ribble, Ph.D., Trinity's associate vice president for budget & research, Academic Affairs, says Stone’s NSF grant is indicative of research flourishing at Trinity in the social sciences, specifically.
“Research in the social sciences at Trinity University has always been strong, so it is wonderful for Dr. Stone to get this recognition from the NSF,” Ribble says. “Their success in this research is in part reflective of an expansion using quantitative research approaches in their teaching and research. It is also gratifying to see this research with a topic that is highly relevant and important for our San Antonio community.”
Stone says they want this study to inform the adoption of active strategies and policies aimed at helping curb housing instability in LGBTQ+ youth.
“We’re hoping to see that there are some practices that these relatives engage in that can help protect LGBTQ youth from bad outcomes, like not finishing school, having real struggles with mental health, and ending up without a reliable place to live,” Stone says. “Because then we can do something with that: We can develop programs that can encourage relatives to know that they're an important part [or protecting LGBTQ+ youth], and we can know which practices may be most important.”
For Stone, this study also serves as a crucial opportunity for Trinity to help make an impact on its immediate community—one where these issues are more pressing than ever.
“Something important about San Antonio is understanding the incredibly high rates of homelessness that we have and that the LGBTQ community has here,” Stone says. “Almost one in five LGBTQ people in San Antonio have experienced homelessness either now or in the past. One in four transgender youth have experienced it before their 25th birthday. Those are really high rates of housing insecurity. I think those numbers make San Antonio a really important place to study that issue.”