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

Joseph J. Rand, Megan S. Paceley, Jessica N. Fish, Sloan Okrey Anderson


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.


LGBTQ+; 4-H; inclusion; diversity; gay; lesbian; bisexual; trans; youth

Full Text:



Access, Equity, and Belonging Committee. (2020). Practices for inclusion of individuals of all genders and sexual orientations. 4-H Program Leaders Working Group.

Aragon, S. R., Poteat, V. P., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. W. (2014). The influence of peer victimization on educational outcomes for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ high school students. Journal of LGBT Youth, 11(1), 1-19.

Benson, P. L., Leffert, N., Scales, P. C., & Blyth, D. A. (1998). Beyond the “village” rhetoric: Creating healthy communities for children and adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 2, 138-159.

Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., & Syvertsen, A. K. (2011). The contribution of the developmental assets framework to positive youth development theory and practice. In Advances in Child Development and Behavior (Vol. 41, pp. 197-230). Elsevier.

Bishop, M. D., Fish, J. N., Hammack, P. L., & Russell, S. T. (2020). Sexual identity development milestones in three generations of sexual minority people: A national probability sample. Developmental Psychology, 56(11), 2177-2193.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Catalano, R. F., Berglund, M. L., Ryan, J. A. M., Lonczak, H. S., & Hawkins, J. D. (2004). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591(1), 98-124.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November 19). LGBT youth: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health.

CFERR. (2019). National 4-H partners memorandum of understanding.

Day, J. K., Fish, J. N., Perez-Brumer, A., Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Russell, S. T. (2017). Transgender youth substance use disparities: Results from a population-based sample. Journal of Adolescent Health, 61(6), 729-735.

Day, J. K., Ioverno, S., & Russell, S. T. (2019). Safe and supportive schools for LGBT youth: Addressing educational inequities through inclusive policies and practices. Journal of School Psychology, 74, 29-43.

Fish, J. N., & Baams, L. (2018). Trends in alcohol-related disparities between heterosexual and sexual minority youth from 2007 to 2015: Findings from the youth risk behavior survey. LGBT Health, 5(6), 359-367.

Fish, J. N., Baams, L., & McGuire, J. K. (2020). Sexual and gender minority mental health issues among children and youth. In E. D. Rothblum (Ed.), Oxford handbook of sexual and gender minority mental health (pp. 229-244). Oxford University Press.

Fish, J. N., Schulenberg, J. E., & Russell, S. T. (2019). Sexual minority youth report high-intensity binge drinking: The critical role of school victimization. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64, 186-193.

Goldbach, J. T., Tanner-Smith, E. E., Bagwell, M., & Dunlap, S. (2014). Minority stress and substance use in sexual minority adolescents: A meta-analysis. Prevention Science, 15(3), 350-363.

Gray, M. L. (2009). Out in the country: Youth, media, and queer visibility in rural America (Vol. 2). NYU Press.

Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2009). How does sexual minority stigma “Get under the skin”? A psychological mediation framework. Psychological Bulletin, 135(5), 707-730.

Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2016). Structural stigma and health inequalities: Research evidence and implications for psychological science. American Psychologist Journal, 71(8), 742-751.

Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Keyes, K. M. (2013). Inclusive anti-bullying policies and reduced risk of suicide attempts in lesbian and gay youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1, Supplement), S21-S26.

Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Pachankis, J. E., & Wolff, J. (2012). Religious climate and health risk behaviors in sexual minority youths: A population-based study. American Journal of Public Health, 102(4), 657-663.

Helms, M., M. (2019) Swot analysis. In Encyclopedia of management (Vol 2., 8th ed., pp. 1064-1068). Thomas Gale.

Herek, G. M. (2002). Heterosexuals' attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the United States. Journal of Sex Research, 39(4), 264-274.

Johns, M. M., Lowry, R., Andrzejewski, J., Barrios, L. C., Demissie, Z., McManus, T., Rasberry, C. N., Robin, L., & Underwood, J. M. (2019). Transgender identity and experiences of violence victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk behaviors among high school students—19 states and large urban school districts, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(3), 67-71.

Johns, M. M., Lowry, R., Rasberry, C. N., Dunville, R., Robin, L., Pampati, S., Stone, D. M., & Mercer Kollar, L. M. (2018). Violence, victimization, substance use, and suicide risk among sexual minority high school students—United States, 2015-2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67.

Kosciw, J. G., Palmer, N. A., & Kull, R. M. (2015). Reflecting resiliency: Openness about sexual orientation and/or gender identity and its relationship to well-being and educational outcomes for LGBT students. American Journal of Community Psychology, 55(1-2), 167-178.

Lerner, J. V., Bowers, E. P., Minor, K., Boyd, M. J., Mueller, M. K., Schmid, K. L., Napolitano, C. M., Lewin-Bizan, S., & Lerner, R. M. (2013). Positive youth development: Processes, philosophies, and programs. In R. M. Lerner, M. A. Easterbrooks, J. Mistry, & I. B. Weiner (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Developmental psychology (pp. 365-392). John Wiley & Sons.

Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J., V., & Colleagues (2005). The positive development of youth: Comprehensive findings from the 4-H study of positive youth development. National 4-H Council.

Marshal, M. P., Dietz, L. J., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., Smith, H. A., McGinley, J., Thoma, B. C., Murray, P. J., D’Augelli, A. R., & Brent, D. A. (2011). Suicidality and depression disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual youth: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 115-123.

Marshal, M. P., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., King, K. M., Miles, J., Gold, M. A., Bukstein, O. G., & Morse, J. Q. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: A meta-analysis and methodological review. Addiction, 103(4), 546-556.

Mereish, E. H. (2019). Substance use and misuse among sexual and gender minority youth. Current Opinion in Psychology, 30, 123-127.

Movement Advancement Project. (2019). Where we call home: LGBT people in rural America.

National 4-H Council. (n.d.). At a glance: Urban, suburban, rural [Infographic]. Retrieved July 7, 2020 from

National 4-H Council. (2014). National 4-H enrollment report [Data set]. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Research, Education & Economics Information System.

National 4-H Council. (2018). National 4-H council annual report 2018.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2020). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health.

Oswald, R. F., Cuthbertson, C., Lazarevic, V., & Goldberg, A. E. (2010). New developments in the field: Measuring community climate. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 6(2), 214-228.

Paceley, M. S. (2016). Gender and sexual minority youth in nonmetropolitan communities: Individual- and community-level needs for support. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 97(2), 77-85.

Paceley, M. S. (2020). Moving away from a risk paradigm to study rural communities among LGBTQ+ youth: Promotion of a strengths perspective in research, practice, and policy. In A. N. Mendenhall & M. M. Carney (Eds.) Rooted in strengths: 30 years of the strengths perspective in social work (pp. 281-292). University of Kansas Press.

Paceley, M. S., Fish, J. N., Conrad, A., & Schuetz, N. (2020a). Diverse community contexts and community resources for sexual and gender minority youth: A mixed-methods study. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 29(6), 445 - 460.

Paceley, M. S., Sattler, P., Goffnett, J., & Jen, S. (2020b). “It feels like home”: Transgender youth in the Midwest and conceptualizations of community climate. Journal of Community Psychology. Advanced online publication.

Paceley, M., Goffnett, J., Sanders, L., & Gadd-Nelson, J. (2020). "Sometimes you get married on Facebook": The use of social media among nonmetropolitan sexual and gender minority youth. Journal of Homosexuality.

Palmer, N., Kosciw, J., & Bartkiewicz, M. (2012). Strengths and silences: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in rural and small town schools. GLSEN.

Perez-Brumer, A., Day, J. K., Russell, S. T., & Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2017). Prevalence and correlates of suicidal ideation among transgender youth in California: Findings from a representative, population-based sample of high school students. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 56(9), 739-746.

Porta, C. M., Gower, A. L., Mehus, C. J., Yu, X., Saewyc, E. M., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2017). “Kicked out”: LGBTQ youths' bathroom experiences and preferences. Journal of Adolescence, 56, 107-112.

Poteat, V. P., Birkett, M., Turner, B., Wang, X., & Phillips, G. (2019). Changes in victimization risk and disparities for heterosexual and sexual minority youth: Trends from 2009 to 2017. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(2), 202-209.

Program Leaders Working Group (n.d.). About: Access equity and belonging committee.

Raifman, J., Charlton, B. M., Arrington-Sanders, R., Chan, P. A., Rusley, J., Mayer, K. H., Stein, M. D., Austin, S. B., & McConnell, M. (2020). Sexual orientation and suicide attempt disparities among US adolescents: 2009-2017. Pediatrics.

Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2006). A model of sexual risk behaviors among young gay and bisexual men: Longitudinal associations of mental health, substance abuse, sexual abuse, and the coming-out process. AIDS Education and Prevention, 18(5), 444-460.

Roth, J. L., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2016). Evaluating youth development programs: Progress and promise. Applied Developmental Science, 20(3), 188-202.

Russell, S. T., & Fish, J. N. (2016). Mental health in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 12, 465-487.

Russell, S. T., & Fish, J. N. (2019). Sexual minority youth, social change, and health: A developmental collision. Research in Human Development, 16(1), 5-20.

Russell, S. T., Pollitt, A. M., Li, G., & Grossman, A. H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63(4), 503-505.

Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. PEDIATRICS, 123(1), 346-352.

Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.

Silbereisen, R. K., & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.). (2007). Approaches to positive youth development. Sage Publishing.

Snapp, S. D., Watson, R. J., Russell, S. T., Diaz, R. M., & Ryan, C. (2015). Social support networks for LGBT young adults: Low cost strategies for positive adjustment. Family Relations, 64(3), 420-430.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Behavioral Health Equity: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. From

Syvertsen, A. K., Scales, P. C., & Toomey, R. B. (2019). Developmental assets framework revisited: Confirmatory analysis and invariance testing to create a new generation of assets measures for applied research. Applied Developmental Science, 1-16.

Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, R. M., & Russell, S. T. (2018). Coping with sexual orientation-related minority stress. Journal of Homosexuality, 65(4), 484-500.

Toomey, R. B., Syvertsen, A. K., & Flores, M. (2019). Are developmental assets protective against suicidal behavior? Differential associations by sexual orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48(4), 788-801.

Van der Toorn, J., Jost, J. T., Packer, D. J., Noorbaloochi, S., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2017). In defense of tradition: Religiosity, conservatism, and opposition to same-sex marriage in North America. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(10), 1455-1468.

Watson, R. J., Rose, H. A., Doull, M., Adjei, J., & Saewyc, E. (2019). Worsening perceptions of family connectedness and parent support for lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(11), 3121-3131.


Copyright (c) 2021 Joseph J. Rand, Megan S. Paceley, Jessica N. Fish, Sloan Okrey Anderson

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.