LGBTQ+ Inclusion and Support: An Analysis of Challenges and Opportunities Within 4-H


  • Joseph J. Rand Extension Center for Youth Development, University of Minnesota
  • Megan S. Paceley School of Social Welfare, University of Kansas
  • Jessica N. Fish Department of Family Science, University of Maryland
  • Sloan Okrey Anderson Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota



LGBTQ , 4-H, inclusion, diversity, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, youth


LGBTQ+ youth experience health disparities compared with heterosexual and cisgender youth. Community-based, positive youth development organizations are an important resource to support and affirm LGBTQ+ youth. This study aimed to identify the opportunities and challenges in supporting LGBTQ+ youth within 4-H. The study took place in one state in the United States within a 4-H program and employed qualitative, community-based methods using SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses and focus groups of 4-H staff, support staff, volunteers, and youth participants. The majority of participants were White and middle class with direct connections to the 4-H program. Thematic analyses were conducted by multiple analysts until consensus was reached. Challenges and opportunities emerged in 3 themes: (a) organizational climate; (b) policies and procedures; and (c) training, education, and resources. Two additional themes included opportunities only: (a) community engagement and (b) youth-specific resources. This study has important implications for the 4-H program, rural community practice, and research, including strategies to improve LGBTQ+ inclusivity through education, programs and policies, hiring, and community partnerships. Additionally, this study highlights the opportunity and unique positionality of the 4-H program to amplify youth voices in the creation of youth-specific resources.

Author Biographies

Joseph J. Rand, Extension Center for Youth Development, University of Minnesota

Associate Extension Professor, Extension Educator - Youth Development

Joe Rand (he/him/his) is an Associate Extension Professor at the University of Minnesota. He has facilitated equity and inclusion workshops related to LGBTQ+ youth within the Minnesota 4-H program, the broader Minnesota Extension program, and with a variety of youth and family service organizations throughout Minnesota. He serves as an advisor for his local Gender and Sexuality Alliance comprised of rural queer youth and allies. He also serves on the national LGBTQ+ subgroup of the Access Equity and Belonging committee of the 4-H Program Leaders Workgroup working to create equitable spaces within youth development settings for queer and trans youth. He received his M.Ed. in Youth Development Leadership at the University of Minnesota.

Megan S. Paceley, School of Social Welfare, University of Kansas

Assistant Professor, Coordinator for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

School of Social Welfare, University of Kansas

Dr. Megan S. Paceley (she/her/hers) is accountable to queer and trans young people through her research on the relationship between youth’s social environments and their health and well-being. Utilizing community-based, qualitative, and mixed methods research, she aims to transform stigmatizing environments, such as families, schools, and communities, that diminish well-being into affirming and supportive environments that promote healthy development and well-being for all queer and trans youth. She specifically aims to better understand and support queer and trans youth in rural communities and strengthen the national network of community-based queer and trans organizations via evaluation, assessment, and collaboration.

Jessica N. Fish, Department of Family Science, University of Maryland

Assistant Professor, Department of Family Science

University of Maryland Prevention Research Center

School of Public Health, University of Maryland

Jessica N. Fish (she/her/hers) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Her research focuses on the sociocultural and interpersonal factors that shape the development and health of sexual and gender minority young people. Her overarching goal is to identify modifiable factors that contribute to sexual orientation and gender identity-related health disparities in order to inform developmentally-sensitive policies, programs, and prevention strategies that promote the health of sexual and gender minority people and their families across the life course.

Sloan Okrey Anderson, Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota

PhD Candidate

Department of Family Social Science

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Sloan Okrey Anderson (they/them/theirs) obtained a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois and spent three years working with queer and trans youth as a social worker in central Illinois. Sloan is a PhD candidate in the department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. Their research is focused on the experiences of LGBTQIA people who were raised in non-affirming Christian families, and the ways in which those experiences continue to impact LGBTQIA people into adulthood. Sloan currently works collaboratively with two local organizations that focus on serving LGBTQIA people from non-affirming Christian backgrounds, and their dissertation research is among the first to explore the impact of Christian family rejection across the lifespan.


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