During my career, I have persistently worked to open up spaces to engage in transdisciplinary sexual and gender minority (SGM) studies in academe. My research has been timely and pertinent, assisted by landmark Supreme Court of Canada judgments establishing sexual orientation as a protected category in 1995 and confirming equality rights for lesbian and gay Canadians in 1998. When I started this work, there were virtually no international studies using a resilience framework focused on SGM youth and young adults. My research program is breaking new ground, providing a dynamic forum to focus on cultural differences and the intersection of sexuality and gender with other relational differences, such as Indigeneity and new comer / immigrant status. My research is building knowledge of the impacts of different community factors, contexts, and values on recognition and accommodation of multivariate sexual and gender identities.
Throughout my academic career, I have linked my research program to advocating for inclusion, equity, and social justice for vulnerable learners in life, learning, institutional, and community contexts. I began by engaging in comparative studies of international lifelong-learning policies, pedagogies, and practices and their effects on learner recognition, access, and accommodation. As spaces opened up in academe to enable me to engage in wide-ranging SGM studies, I expanded this research program, incorporating a core focus on SGM youth and young adults aged 12 to 29. I investigate how they grow into resilience in the face of the adversity and trauma that many of them experience in proximal environments (such as families, foster care, group homes, and street living) and distal environments (such as educational and healthcare settings and the youth justice system). I study how growing into resilience is a process and outcome made more complicated when sexual orientation and gender identity are considered in intersections with other individual characteristics and locators, including Indigeneity, ethnocultural difference, ability, class, age, and geography. I employ mixed methods research, which I use to good effect in descriptive, exploratory, and interpretivist studies to produce knowledge about growing into resilience as a life-enhancing ecological process and outcome. This growth is enabled by protective policies, ethical caring practices, and positive relationships among SGM youth and young adults and the caring professionals and other significant adults who assist them to build assets and demonstrate indicators of thriving.
Currently, I am Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Studies (Tier 1) in the Faculty of Education, University of Alberta. My research program is intended to support my primary goal: to have the complex and diverse population of young SGM persons recognized, respected, and accommodated in institutional contexts including education, healthcare, and justice, as well as in social services/community contexts where vulnerable youth may be living in care, street-involved, or homeless. My research is at the forefront of a conceptual shift in studying resilience, whereby I focus on assets, competencies (rather than deficiencies), and indicators of thriving as components of growing into resilience as a positive process in the face of adversity and trauma. I explore how SGM youth and young adults develop self-confidence, social competence, and problem-solving abilities by building assets that include a strong internal sense of control, access to healthy mentors and social resources, and feelings of real value and support in institutional and community settings. I produce and disseminate knowledge about the benefits of an ecological approach to studying resilience in which accommodating environments and positive relationships with caring professionals are vital.
In my research, which has been funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada since 2002, I involve undergraduate and graduate students in diverse aspects of my research program. They participate in developing theoretical and methodological frameworks that address particularities and needs of SGM youth and young adults. Students gain expertise in attending to the ethics, politics, and practices of conducting mixed-methods research with this multivariate population. They have opportunities to draw on transdisciplinary perspectives, using research from fields including education, psychology, counselling, law, and social work to shape a broad program of SGM-focused research. I encourage students to view research as fuel that informs and enables justice and inclusion. I train them to link research to advocacy focused on generating evidence-based policies that are implemented in caring professional and inclusive institutional and community practices.
In my work, I position researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in education, counselling, healthcare, justice/policing, social work, and other caring professions as collaborators who develop, monitor, and evaluate ethical policies, practices, programs, strategies, and interventions in order to help SGM youth and young adults to grow into resilience. Participating in my research program, students learn to use research to (1) demarcate growing into resilience as an ecological process connecting self to others across environments that SGM youth and young adults navigate daily; (2) develop evidenced-based strategies to help this population build individual and social skills and competencies; (3) influence and shape inclusive policymaking and its implementation across caring professions; (4) develop SGM-inclusive curriculum and pedagogy; (5) develop pre-service and continuing education for caring professionals; (6) create communities of practice that connect caring professionals; and (7) highlight the value of inclusive lifelong learning in enabling positive life trajectories for SGM individuals.
Recently, I have been a co-applicant with principal investigator Dr. Jason Harvey, McGill University, who received a two-year SSHRC Insight Development Grant to develop a mobile augmented reality app for fostering queer history awareness among SGM youth. As well, I am an Expert Committee member advising principal investigator Dr. Line Chamberland, Research Chair on Homophobia at Université du Québec à Montréal, who received a SSHRC Partnership Grant to work with a research team to investigate the accommodation of SGM adults (aged 18 years and older) in institutional contexts in Québec, Canada, and three other francophone countries.