Research Student: Amy MacMillan
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young Peoples’ Experiences of Identity - A Post Section 28 Climate
Working within a socio-legal framework, engaging with youth, sexuality and identity studies and drawing on social policy and sociology, my research seeks to discover how lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young people (18-21) across England experienced their identities within post Section 28 (S28) school environments. Engaging with Queer Theory and notions of performativity I explore how these experiences interact with wider social practices and cultural discourses and affect LGB young people as they transition into adulthood. I am textually analysing policy documents, and conducting qualitative interviews and focus groups with LGB young people. My research aims to enhance the effectiveness of existing policy, help combat homophobia and heteronormativity in schools, and contribute to policy debates around young people and sexuality.
Key research objectives are to:
- Explore the legacies of S28 and how these have impacted LGB young people
- Evaluate current practice regarding LGB identities within schools in relation to existing policy
- Examine how this current practice and policy implementation, or lack thereof, affects LGB young people
- Examine how LGB young people understand their identities in relation to their broader school experiences
- Examine how experiences (positive and/or negative) have affected LGB young people as they transition into adulthood
Central research questions:
- What has the repeal of S28 and the existence of new social and educational policies relating to sexuality, meant for LGB young people – in theory and practice?
- How have LGB young people attending secondary school since S28’s repeal experienced their sexuality and wider identities?
- What impact does explicit homophobia in schools have on the identity experiences of LGB young people?
- What impact does heteronormativity in schools have on the identity experiences of LGB young people?
- What factors affect how successfully schools combat homophobia and address heteronormativity?
- How can educational policies and practices be reframed to better meet the needs of LGB young people?
I grew up in Brighton and as a young lesbian, even if a widely understood queer friendly city, experienced many issues as a result of my sexuality, particularly in the oppressive S28 school environment. I left school at 16 to study Physical Education, History and Sociology A levels at a college in Lewes. It was here where my love of the social sciences was born; through an inspirational lecturer and a growing interest in politics, social policy and in particular social inequalities and injustices, which I was increasingly becoming aware of as I transitioned into adulthood. I left Brighton to study for my undergraduate degree in Sports Science and Social Science at Loughborough University in 2002. During my time at Loughborough my interest in the social science side of my degree, and in particular gender and sexuality studies, greatly increased, as did my awareness of LGBT rights and equalities, or lack thereof. Graduating with a First in 2005, I moved to Leeds in 2007 to do my Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Queer Theory, with a view to continuing onto PhD study. During my Masters I developed a specific interest in my current field of study.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
My experiences as a queer teenager and young adult have heavily influenced my life choices so far. Having experienced first-hand growing up as gay in a heteronormative world and becoming aware of the severity of homophobia and effects of heteronormativity for some young people, particularly in schools, I felt I wanted to do work that could help future generations and challenge LGBT inequalities. Whilst I was keen to be (and am) involved with LGBT activism, my love for studying and desire to teach others, led me down the academic path. I felt that I would be able to highlight issues, engage with policy development, with LGBT activism and visibility and eventually teach University students about a wide range of social situations and issues by undertaking a PhD in this field.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
LGB and to a lesser extend T, rights and equalities in the UK have come a long way over the last century, but we still have an incredibly long way to go to achieve full equality, particularly when it comes to young people. S28 was repealed in 2003, however many schools remain homophobic and heteronormative environments; and despite pockets of excellent LGBT positive work in some schools, usualising LGBT people, there remains much resistance to creating schools that are truly equal to all genders and sexualities. In schools and more widely across society, this is a pivotal social and political time for LGBT people, where progress has been made, but is continually being threatened by both apathy (that equality has been achieved) and an ever increasing anti-LGBT backlash. As such, it is vital that work in this field continues to take place and that we keep the existence of inequalities of many LGBT people high on the political and social agenda. Every day I read about LGBT young people who are battling to be accepted for whom there are, about terrible homophobic bullying, harassment and violence – these real life events continually reinstall my passion for this area of study.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
Once I have completed my PhD I hope to remain within academia doing a combination of research, lecturing and writing. However, I also intend to continue working with LGBT educational charities and hope to help continue to bridge the gap between academia and activism, working toward the same goals. Within both these areas of work, engagement with social and educational policy will also be important and I hope to influence policy discussions and development with my work.
Since starting my PhD I have presented at a number of conferences and have published an article introducing my work (http://www.gjss.org/?q=issues/09/03). Alongside my PhD I work with Schools Out; the leading UK charity for educational rights of LGBT young people and educators, and LGBT History Month; which is an annual month of celebration of the lives and achievements of LGBT people that aims to educate and promote cultural diversity and pluralism across society.
My Masters Research ‘Non-Normative Gender and Sexual Identities in Schools’ (2008) which forms the basis of my PhD research can be found by clicking here.