Study examines LGBTQ + skills among 4-H professionals


A one-of-a-kind study found a gap between the knowledge and skills of 4-H professionals in engaging and developing programs for LGBTQ + youth in 4-H North Carolina.

The study also showed, however, great general support from 4-H professionals to increase their knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ + youth.

The study focused on assessing the knowledge, skills and disposition of 4-H professionals to support LGBTQ + youth and deal with difficult situations. The team conducted a statewide survey that obtained a 40% response rate. Almost half of all 4-H professionals in North Carolina and 26% of survey respondents work in designated urban or suburban areas, while 74% work in rural counties.

The survey found that respondents were mostly familiar with LGBTQ + terminology, but did not know how to apply it and other knowledge related to the development of LGBTQ + youth in 4-H, says study co-author. Maru Gonzalez, assistant professor and extension specialist at North Carolina State University.

“They may know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, but they may not know how to navigate particular situations, like how to support a young person during the coming out process or how to respond to an anti-epithet. LGBTQ +, ”Gonzalez said. .

“Participants were better informed on how to support lesbian, gay and bisexual youth than transgender and expansive gender youth. Based on previous research, we speculated that this would be true, as there are generally more misconceptions and misunderstandings about trans and gender expansive youth.

Gonzalez says she and her colleagues also wanted to know if there is a difference between professionals in suburban and urban areas and rural counties in terms of knowledge, skills, disposition and willingness to learn. Professionals were classified as “urban / suburban” if they indicated they were in a county designated by the North Carolina Rural Center as an urban or regional suburb.

In general, most of the survey participants had a basic understanding of the terminology, but lacked the skills to apply this knowledge effectively. Rural professionals tended to report lower knowledge, skills and dispositions overall compared to professionals in urban / suburban areas.

“We found that rural professionals were less numerous in almost all knowledge, skills and disposition and were significantly less likely to be in contact with collaborators able to provide specific resources and programs and support to people. LGBTQ +, ”explains Gonzalez. Additionally, professionals in urban or suburban areas predicted that they would have more support if they took steps to create a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ + youth.

“The aim of this study was to raise awareness and start a conversation,” says Barker.

The group began work on the study in the fall of 2019. The study was personal to paper co-author and former Hoke County 4-H program assistant Alex Barker, who was a youth. LGBTQ + who participated in 4-H when they were younger.

“I see the value of 4-H and the amazing things we do, especially around our youth development framework and against our strengths,” says Barker. “Many of us entered 4-H because we are passionate about supporting young people in our communities. The purpose of this study was to raise awareness and start a conversation. “

As a program assistant, Barker saw the need for professional development and action within 4-H, so they reached out to Gonzalez to discuss opportunities to work together.

“As adults, it’s our job to change these environments so these young people can thrive,” says Clarke.

“Alex was instrumental in getting this study started,” says Gonzalez. “Their leadership is a testament to the value and necessity of collaboration between extension professionals in the field and specialists and researchers who may not also be listening to the needs of the country. “

Megan Clarke, co-author of the study who works at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at Duke University, says the ultimate goal is to ensure that LGBTQ + youth can thrive wherever they are.

“We see these disproportionate risks among LGBTQ + youth associated with suicidality and self-harm and other exposures to trauma and behavioral factors,” says Clarke. “As adults, it’s our job to change these environments so these young people can thrive. And this study gives us the opportunity to say: “Here, there is both will and preparation in this community of potentially united adults. “

Christy Byrd, associate professor of development science at NC State, also co-authored the article.

Published: Journal of Youth Development

Authors: Maru Gonzalez, Christy Byrd, North Carolina State University; Megan Clarke, National Center for Childhood Traumatic Stress at Duke University; and Alex Barker, National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network

Summary: Despite its status as the largest organization serving youth in the United States, there is a dearth of empirical studies of LGBTQ + youth within 4-H; even rarer is research examining the skills of 4-H professionals to effectively support LGBTQ + youth. To fill this gap in the literature, this quantitative study explored the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of 4-H professionals in North Carolina regarding working with LGBTQ + youth. 75 professionals responded to an online survey. Professionals displayed higher levels of knowledge than skills or disposition, were better informed on how to support LGB youth versus transgender and sexist youth, and expressed a need for and substantial interest in professional development. Rural professionals tended to report inferior knowledge, skills and dispositions compared to professionals working in urban / suburban settings. This article presents the results of the study and explores the implications for future research and practice.


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