How informal mentoring may benefit the educational resilience of sexual minority youth

Gastic, B. & Johnson, D. (2009). Teacher-mentors and the educational resilience of sexual minority youth, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 21:2-3, 219-231, DOI:10.1080/10538720902772139

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • “Teacher-mentors and the Educational resilience of Sexual Minority Youth” is the first research study that analyzes the advantages of informally mentoring sexual minority youths, within the context of educational resilience.
  • Used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to indicate that having a mentor is connected to more active, post-secondary participation for gay, lesbian, and bisexual/bi youths – especially if the mentor is a teacher.
  • Data also indicated that having a teacher as a mentor was especially vital for female sexual minorities of color’s educational resilience, as well.
  • The researchers have simultaneously found that the odds of female sexual minorities of color having a teacher as a mentor to be high.
  • Both researchers concluded that more research has to be conducted on meeting the needs for sexual minority groups of color’s needs – this is especially the case for female sexual minorities.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This is the first study to examine the benefits of informal mentoring on the educational resilience of sexual minority youth. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we show that having a mentor, especially one that is a teacher, is associated with higher levels of post-secondary participation for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. Teacher-mentors are particularly significant to the educational resilience of sexual minority women of color. Unfortunately, sexual minority women of color are also the least likely to be mentored by teachers. Our findings underscore the urgency to understand how school- and community-based mentoring efforts can better meet and respond to the needs of sexual minority youth of color, especially women.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Given the benefits of mentoring, we need to be concerned about the large percentage of sexual minority youth of color who do not have mentors. Where are the mentors for these youth? When developing mentoring opportunities for sexual minority youth, greater efforts must be made to proactively target sexual minority youth of color. Sexual minority females of color in particular are severely undermentored as a population; they are less likely to be mentored (both in general and by teachers, specifically) than any other group of sexual minority youth. To be successful in reaching these youth, we must understand the extent to which sexual minority youth of color are underserved because of a lack of access to supportive adults, difficulties in building rapport, or trust or a combination of factors.

Compared to all other informal mentors, teacher-mentors provide the biggest boost to the chances that sexual minority youth will attend college. Having a teacher-mentor makes the biggest difference in the rate of post-secondary participation for sexual minority females of color. Teachers are uniquely positioned to positively affect the lives of sexual minority youth in meaningful and significant ways. However, this potential can only be realized if teachers are sensitive to and respectful of their sexual minority students. Mentoring relationships require trust. Sexual minority youth will neither trust nor confide in teachers who are hostile to who they are or to the communities to which they belong. Sexual minority youth must feel safe to be themselves with teacher-mentors without fear of judgment or rejection.

Efforts to support sexual minority students must guard against unintentionally contributing to the further marginalization of these youth. Snider (1996) posits that support programs within educational contexts such as schools should not be separate programs, further isolating the targeted student population. “Schools must make fundamental changes that work to eliminate racism and homophobia within the dominant educational structure” (p. 294). The educational needs of sexual minority youth of color in particular remain unfulfilled by this failure to adequately address the intersections of sexual orientation and racial or ethnic identity. Kumashiro’s (2001, 2002) synthesis of antioppressive pedagogy recognizes these intersecting identities in the context of educational theory and practice. Antioppressive approaches to education are juxtaposed with contemporary education-based queer youth activism. They constitute a framework of theories that “offer ways of thinking and talking about education, oppression, identity, and change” helpful for “working against traditional ways of thinking and acting, teaching and learning” (p. 9). Sexual minority youth need—and deserve—mentoring experiences that do not require that they compartmentalize their multiple, intersecting identities (Johnson, 2005). Through mentoring relationships, sexual minority youth of color can tap into resources that can help them meet needs and face challenges that are experienced uniquely by those who are both “raced” and “sexualized.”


To access this article, click here.