Identity Profiles in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

Identity Profiles in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

The Role of Family Influences
Hallie R. Bregman • Neena M. Malik •
Matthew J. L. Page • Emily Makynen •
Kristin M. Lindahl
Received: 8 May 2012 / Accepted: 14 July 2012 / Published online: 31 July 2012
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012
Abstract Sexual identity development is a central task of
adolescence and young adulthood and can be especially
challenging for sexual minority youth. Recent research has
moved from a stage model of identity development in
lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth to examining
identity in a non-linear, multidimensional manner. In
addition, although families have been identified as important to youth’s identity development, limited research has
examined the influence of parental responses to youth’s
disclosure of their LGB sexual orientation on LGB identity.
The current study examined a multidimensional model of
LGB identity and its links with parental support and
rejection. One hundred and sixty-nine LGB adolescents
and young adults (ages 14–24, 56 % male, 48 % gay, 31 %
lesbian, 21 % bisexual) described themselves on dimensions of LGB identity and reported on parental rejection,
sexuality-specific social support, and non-sexuality-specific
social support. Using latent profile analysis (LPA), two
profiles were identified, indicating that youth experience
both affirmed and struggling identities. Results indicated
that parental rejection and sexuality-specific social support
from families were salient links to LGB identity profile
classification, while non-sexuality specific social support
was unrelated. Parental rejection and sexuality-specific
social support may be important to target in interventions
for families to foster affirmed LGB identity development in
Keywords Gay Lesbian Bisexual Sexual minority
Parental rejection Social support
Developing a sense of identity is a central task of adolescence and young adulthood (Meeus 2011). Although well
studied among heterosexual youth, it is only in the past
couple of decades that there has been a growing interest in
understanding psychosocial development, in general, and
identity development, in particular, among sexual minority
youth. Although progress is being made in our understanding of the critical elements of identity for lesbian, gay,
and bisexual (LGB) youth, less well understood are the
factors that influence identity development. Few would
dispute the importance of the family context for youth
development, but as yet, little is known about how parental
behavior relates to identity development for LGB youth.
The current study uses latent profile analysis to better
understand how dimensions of identity group together and
examines parental rejection and parental support as statistical predictors of these identity clusters.
LGB Identity
Sexual identity development is conceptualized as the process by which a person comes to recognize his or her
sexual attractions and incorporates this awareness into his
or her self-identity (Mohr and Fassinger 2000). While
all individuals engage in the process of sexual identity development, typically in adolescence and young
H. R. Bregman (&) M. J. L. Page E. Makynen
K. M. Lindahl
Department of Psychology, University of Miami,
Coral Gables, FL 33124, USA
e-mail: [email protected]
N. M. Malik
Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami Miller
School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430
DOI 10.1007/s10964-012-9798-z
adulthood (Worthington et al. 2008), LGB youth are presented with a unique set of challenges during this process.
In particular, LGB youth may find the development of a
positive sexual identity challenging in the face of social
stigma and marginalization (Mohr and Kendra 2011).
Although not well-understood in LGB populations
(Rosario et al. 2011), the broader identity literature (i.e.
adolescent identity, ethnic identity, etc.) suggests that
identity processes have important implications for youth
outcomes; and stagnated identity development is associated
with poorer adjustment (Archer and Grey 2009; Marcia
1966). Preliminary empirical evidence among LGB individuals supports this claim. Aspects of identity integration,
defined as the process by which individuals increase commitment to their new LGB identity and further incorporate it
into their sense of self, are linked to psychological adjustment for LGB youth (Morris 1997; Rosario et al. 2001,
2011). Facets of LGB identity, including more positive
attitudes towards homosexuality (Balsam and Mohr 2007),
greater outness (D’Augelli 2002), and increased involvement in the LGB community (Morris et al. 2001), are linked
to better adjustment (i.e., Newcomb and Mustanski 2010).
With the establishment of identity as important to functioning, several theoretical approaches have been applied to
understanding LGB identity. Although LGB identity
development was historically thought of as a series of stages
(Cass 1979; Marcia 1966; Troiden 1988), recent work suggests that a hierarchical, linear stage model may not best
characterize LGB identity development (Rosario et al.
2008). Evidence indicates that not all LGB youth experience
the same aspects of identity formation in the same way, at
the same time, and some of the hypothesized stages (such as
identity pride, which connotes a feeling of superiority over
heterosexuals) may not be experienced at all. As such,
researchers have shifted to conceptualizing identity development as a multi-dimensional, non-linear process (Mohr
and Fassinger 2000) in which there may be multiple trajectories and components to healthy identity formation.
With the move toward a multidimensional framework has
come the issue of understanding what variables constitute
LGB identity (Mohr and Kendra 2011). A preponderance of
the research in this area has assessed identity through the
single dimension of internalized homophobia (Mohr and
Kendra 2011). Internalized homophobia is the application of
anti-LGB stigma to the self, though in recent years, it has
been redefined as internalized homonegativity in order to
distinguish internalized negative feelings and perceptions
from internalized fear (Herek 1994). While internalized
homonegativity is critically important to include, it is also
likely an overly restricted measure of identity.
Although support is growing for a multi-dimensional
approach to understanding sexual identity, there is not
always uniformity across studies in what dimensions
constitute ‘‘identity.’’ One of the more comprehensive
models, however, was developed by Mohr and Fassinger
(2000) and later revised by Mohr and Kendra (2011). These
authors identify six dimensions of identity development,
including internalized homonegativity (rejection of one’s
LGB identity), concealment motivation (concern with and
motivation to protect one’ privacy as LGB person),
acceptance concerns (concern with the potential for stigmatization as an LGB person), identity uncertainty
(uncertainty about one’s sexual orientation identity),
identity superiority (view favoring LGB people over
heterosexual people), and finding the experience of
developing an LGB identity to be a difficult process. This
multi-dimensional approach supports a well-rounded and
thorough understanding of LGB identity.
Several recent studies highlight the range and diversity
of identity development for LGB youth. Floyd and Stein
(2002) identified five developmental trajectories that
included aspects of identity and varied in terms of age of
coming out, timing of milestones, parental attitudes, comfort with sexual orientation, and emotional distress. Rosario et al. (2008) also identified different patterns of sexual
identity development and grouped LGB adolescents into
high, middling, and low levels of identity integration. The
groups differed in terms of high, moderate, and low levels
of social support from others, gay-related stress, attitudes
toward sexual minorities, and comfort with same sex
attractions. Willoughby et al. (2010) assessed multiple
dimensions of LGB identity using Mohr’s model (Mohr
and Fassinger 2000), but the dimensions were averaged,
thus precluding the ability to examine any individual differences. Although expert panels recommend the inclusion
of more than one dimension of sexual orientation identity
in measurement (LGB Youth Sexual Orientation Measurement Work Group 2003; Badgett 2009), the above
multivariate studies tend to be the exception rather than the
rule in the literature (Saewyc 2011).
In addition to variability emanating from conceptual or
methodological differences, identity development also has
been found to vary across a number of demographic
covariates, including gender, sexual orientation, age, and
ethnicity. Although early research primarily relied only on
gay males, as an increasing number of studies include
females and bisexuals, important gender differences have
been noted. For example, females have been found to be
more likely to engage in identity-centered development,
while males more commonly engage in sex-centered
development (Savin-Williams and Diamond 2000).
Research also indicates that females are more likely to
identify as bisexual and to vacillate between identity labels
(Diamond 2007). Age also has been identified as a factor
related to identity development, and several researchers
have found younger age of disclosure to be related to
418 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430
greater comfort with sexual orientation (Floyd and Stein
2002). Very limited data on identity development among
ethnic minority LGB youth exist, although one of the few
studies to examine ethnicity found no differences in most
milestones, including age of first identification as LGB,
first same-sex attraction, and first time having sex with
someone of the same-sex, for Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic/Latino groups (Rosario et al. 2004). In
the present study, we examine how gender, sexual orientation, age and ethnicity relate to identity profiles.
One of the main goals of the present study is to assess
and understand LGB identity in a novel, non-linear, multidimensional manner. Based on past literature suggesting
that LGB identity is composed of numerous elements
(Mohr and Fassinger 2000; Mohr and Kendra 2011;
Rosario et al. 2008), including internalized homonegativity, concealment motivation, acceptance concerns, identity
uncertainty, and difficult process, we examined patterns of
response across these dimensions using latent profile
analysis (LPA). Typically, dimensions of LGB identity
have been examined using a variable-centered approach,
such as regression. Although commonly used, a limitation
of this technique is that it assumes that the effect of
a particular dimension operates independent of other
dimensions, providing no information about how levels of
multiple dimensions naturally cluster within a population.
As LPA allows for variability and interrelationships among
dimensions, we sought to understand whether youth were
uniformly high or low on all dimensions, or whether they
exhibited diverse responses across dimensions.
Family Influences on LGB Identity
In the past decade, there has been increased interest in trying
to understand what factors affect LGB identity. Symbolic
interaction theory, a classical theory of identity development
(Cooley 1902; Mead 1934), argues that individuals conceive
a sense of identity through their interactions with others.
Specifically, self-perceptions are highly influenced by the
way that individuals perceive others to view them, such that
if one feels disliked by others, that individual is more likely
to feel more negatively about oneself. Empirical evidence
supports this theory among adolescent samples more generally. For example, Berenson et al. (2005) and Robertson
and Simons (1989) both found that adolescents and young
adults who experience parental rejection have lower selfesteem. Furthermore, adolescents who perceive support
from parents have been found to have increased global selfworth (Robinson 1995). Taken together, symbolic interaction theory and empirical studies of parenting suggest that
parental responses will significantly influence sexual
minority identity development in adolescents and young
Parental responses to youth’s sexual minority status
have been found to vary widely (Beeler and DiProva 1999;
D’Augelli et al. 1998; Floyd et al. 1999). Though data are
limited with families of LGB adolescents, parental rejection and parental support both appear to be important
factors to consider in understanding LGB youth functioning. Parental rejection focuses specifically on negative
reactions from parents in regard to youth LGB status, and
functions not as the direct inverse of acceptance (i.e., low
parental rejection does not guarantee high parental acceptance), but as a distinct, although highly related, dimension.
Parental rejection of youth’s sexuality is considered one of
the most important problems facing gay and lesbian youth
(D’Augelli and Hershberger 1993; Savin-Williams 1989).
Ryan et al. have established an important line of research
that documents the importance of both parental rejection
(Ryan et al. 2009) and parental support (Ryan et al. 2010)
as predictors of a variety of mental health and physical
health outcomes in LGB youth. For example, family
rejection was found to be associated with an increased
likelihood of having depression, suicidal ideation, illicit
substance use, and unprotected sex with casual partners
(Ryan et al. 2009).
In addition to studies focusing on general mental and
physical health outcomes, preliminary evidence also shows
that parental rejection and other family reactions are linked
to LGB identity development (i.e. Savin-Williams 1989). In
a sample of 317 gay and lesbian youth aged 14–23 years,
Savin-Williams (1989) found that youths’ perceptions of
relatively positive parental attitudes regarding sexual
orientation were associated with personal comfort with
orientation, increased self-esteem for the youths, and fewer
self-critical behaviors. In a study of 72 LGB youth ages
16–27, parental acceptance of and attitudes toward their
child’s same sex attractions were linked to a greater consolidation of a sexual orientation identity in youth, which
was defined as more openness and comfort with sexual
orientation (Floyd et al. 1999). A third study of 81 LGB
youth ages 14–25 found that family rejection of sexual orientation is related to negative LGB identity, operationalized
by a summary score across six dimensions, including
internalizing homonegativity, identity confusion, and need
for acceptance (Willoughby et al. 2010). These studies,
although few in number, provide consistent support for a
relationship between parental rejection and LGB identity.
Social support from parents is another important factor
with regard to family response to youth sexuality. In general, support within one’s family of origin, and particularly
support from parents, is proposed to play a critical role in
the development of a person’s internal sense of support
(Branje et al. 2002). Specific to sexual minority youth, it
has been suggested that a supportive social context may
promote sexual identity development (Mohr and Fassinger
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430 419
2003; Rosario et al. 2008), though only one empirical study
was found in this area. In a study of 146 LGB youth,
Rosario et al. (2008) found that family social support
facilitated optimal identity development. Yet, this study
assessed general family social support, and new research
indicates that sexuality-specific social support may be more
salient for LGB youth (Doty et al. 2010). Thus, the current
study aims to understand how sexuality-specific and nonsexuality-specific social support are distinctively related to
LGB identity.
While the above studies offer important first steps
towards understanding the ways that parental responses
influence youth sexual identity, these findings are qualified
by several areas of omission. First, most studies operationalize identity with a single variable. As previously discussed, sexual identity may be best characterized by many
different dimensions (i.e. Mohr and Fassinger 2000).
Therefore, limiting the assessment of identity to comfort and
openness about sexual orientation or internalized homonegativity, as a majority of studies have done, may not
portray the full spectrum of identity. Second, time since
youth disclosed their sexual minority status to their parents
is rarely studied. As preliminary studies consistently suggest
that parental responses fluctuate considerably over time
following disclosure (Beals and Peplau 2006; Beeler and
DiProva 1999), it is critical to consider how much time has
passed and to account statistically for the length of time if it
varies across participants. Third, little is known about how
parental responses relate to identity development in adolescent and young adult LGB youth. Further research should
address these areas of omission to more accurately establish
how parental responses are linked to youth LGB identity.
Study Aims and Hypotheses
The present study has three principle aims. The first aim of
the study is to use LPA to identify identity profiles, or
patterns of response across multiple dimensions of LGB
identity. We hypothesized that some youth patterns would
be characterized by identity struggles, while other youth
would portray an affirmed or positive identity. We were
particularly interested in the pattern of relationships among
dimensions, and expected to find different levels of each
dimension within each profile, such that youth within the
affirmed identity profile, for instance, might show especially low levels of internalized homonegativity, yet
moderate levels of concealment motivation.
The second aim of the study was to understand the role
of demographic and contextual covariates in sexual
minority identity. As previous research identified differences in development across gender, sexual orientation, and age (Diamond 2007; Floyd and Stein 2002;
Savin-Williams and Diamond 2000), these factors were
expected to be related to LGB identity in the present study.
Specifically, females and older youth were expected to be
more likely to show affirmed LGB identity, and bisexual
youth were expected to engage in more identity struggles.
Given the dearth of information regarding LGB ethnic
minority youth, ethnic differences in identity profiles were
examined, though differences were not expected, in keeping with findings from Rosario et al. (2004). Time since
disclosure, an often critically overlooked variable in previous research, also was examined as a covariate.
The third aim of the study was to examine links between
parental rejection and support with youth sexual identity.
As preliminary research has linked parental rejection and
LGB identity (Floyd et al. 1999; Willoughby et al. 2010;
Savin-Williams 1989), we expected parental rejection to be
related to less positive LGB identity. Based on limited
research suggesting that social support is important for
LGB identity (Mohr and Fassinger 2003; Rosario et al.
2008), and a single study showing that sexuality specificsocial support is most salient for LGB youth (Doty et al.
2010), we also hypothesized that sexuality-specific social
support would be related to more positive LGB identity,
while general non-sexuality-specific social support would
be unrelated.
One hundred and sixty-nine LGB adolescents and young
adults participated in the current study. Youth ranged in
age from 14 to 24. Fifty-six percent of the youth sample
was male. Self-identified sexual orientations of participants
included gay (48 %), lesbian (31 %), and bisexual (21 %).
Of those who identified as bisexual, 36 % were male and
64 % were female. Participants represented a diverse range
of ethnicities, including White: Non-Hispanic (40 %),
White: Hispanic (38 %), and Black (including African
American and Caribbean American) (22 %), reflecting the
surrounding community. Years of education for the youth
ranged from completing 7th grade to completing graduate
school. Time since first disclosure to a parent ranged from
0 to 11 years (M = 3.05, SD = 2.49). For those youth who
were ‘‘out’’ to a parent, the average age, in years, at initial
disclosure to a parent was 16.23 (SD = 2.67).
IRB approval of the study was secured. As part of a larger
longitudinal study on the peer and family relationships of
LGB young people, participants were recruited via fliers in
420 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430
the community, websites, and community organizations.
Interested participants were instructed to contact research
staff by phone or e-mail. All questionnaires included in the
current study were from the initial assessment of the longitudinal study. Only the procedures relevant to the current
study are described here. Youth under 18 were required to
get parental consent in order to participate, and therefore
all youth under 18 who participated were out to at least one
parent. Consent was obtained for youth over 18. All participants completing the study protocol were offered four
free counseling sessions with clinically trained project
staff, as incentive for participation as well as to aid with
human subject issues. Youth were compensated $50 for
study participation.
Demographic Information
To collect relevant demographic information, participants
were asked to complete a background information questionnaire. This questionnaire assessed age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and time since youth disclosed
sexual minority status to a parent.
LGB Identity
LGB identity difficulty was assessed using six subscales
from the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identity Scale
(LGBIS; Mohr and Fassinger 2000). The LGBIS consists
of twenty-seven items using a Likert scale ranging from 1
(‘‘disagree strongly’’) to 7 (‘‘agree strongly’’), and subscales scores are computed by taking the mean of the items.
The present study uses five of the six LGBIS subscales:
Internalized Homonegativity/Binegativity (five items),
Concealment Motivation (six items), Acceptance Concerns
(five items), Identity Uncertainty (four items), and Difficult
Process (five items). The Feelings of Superiority subscale
was omitted due to inadequate psychometric properties,
specifically poor internal consistency, similar to Mohr and
Kendra (2011). Initial evidence of satisfactory reliability
and validity has been established for the LGIS (Mohr and
Fassinger 2000), which was later adapted for use with
bisexual individuals and renamed the LGBIS. There were
no missing data on any of the LGBIS scales. The five
LGBIS scales used in this study are described in further
detail below.
Internalized Homonegativity/Binegativity The Internalized Homonegativity/Binegativity Scale assesses the
degree of negativity the participant associates with their
sexual minority identity. The scale also measures to what
extent one favors heterosexuality over LGB sexual
orientations. Items include ‘‘I would rather be straight if I
could’’ and ‘‘Homosexual lifestyles are not as fulfilling as
heterosexual lifestyles.’’ Adequate internal consistency was
found in the current study (a = .66) and in prior research
(a = .79; Mohr and Fassinger 2000).
Concealment Motivation The Concealment Motivation
scale measures how much the participant prefers to keep
their same-sex romantic relationships private, and to what
degree the participant fears a lack of control over disclosure of their sexual orientation. Items include ‘‘I prefer to
keep my same-sex romantic relationships rather private’’
and ‘‘My private sexual behavior is nobody’s business.’’
Good internal consistency was found in the current study
(a = .75) and in prior research (a = .81; Mohr and Fassinger 2000).
Acceptance Concerns The Acceptance Concerns scale
assesses how much the participant feels insecure around
straight people, and how worried the participant feels with
others’ views of their sexual orientation. Items include ‘‘I
often wonder whether others judge me for my sexual orientation’’ and ‘‘I can’t feel comfortable knowing that others
judge me negatively for my sexual orientation.’’ The current study (a = .78) and prior research (a = .75; Mohr and
Fassinger 2000) established good internal consistency of
this scale.
Identity Uncertainty The Identity Uncertainty scale
measures how certain the participant is about his or her
own sexual orientation. Items include ‘‘I’m not totally sure
what my sexual orientation is’’ and ‘‘I keep changing my
mind about my sexual orientation.’’ The current study
(a = .83) and prior research (a = .77; Mohr and Fassinger
2000) established good internal consistency of this scale.
Difficult Process The Difficult Process scale assesses
how uncomfortable and challenging the process of sexual
orientation development has been for the participant. Items
include ‘‘Coming out to my friends and family has been a
very lengthy process’’ and ‘‘Admitting to myself that I’m
an LGB person has been a very painful process.’’ Good
internal reliability was established in the current study
(a = .76) and prior research (a = .79; Mohr and Fassinger
Parental Rejection
The Perceived Parental Reactions Scale (PPRS) is a
32-item measure that assesses youth perceptions of
parental response to their sexual orientation (Willoughby
et al. 2006). Items include ‘‘My parent supports me’’ and
‘‘My parent says I am no longer his/her child,’’ and positive
stated items are reverse scored. Items were rated on a
5-point Likert scale indicating degree of agreement with
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430 421
the item. Higher total scores on the PPRS indicate more
parental rejection. Scores on the PPRS ranged from 32 to
150 (M = 83.68, SD = 34.11). Adequate reliability has
been demonstrated (a = 97; Willoughby et al. 2006) and
was established in the current sample (a = .97). Participants who were not out of a parent (13 %) did not complete
the PPRS.
Family Social Support
A modified version of the Social Support Behaviors Scale
(SSB) was used to measure the perceived availability of
sexuality-specific and non-sexuality-specific social support
(Doty et al. 2010; Vaux et al. 1987), though none of the
items refer to LGB sexual orientation specifically. The
scale consisted of 44 items, half of which asked about
family support for problems not related to sexuality and
half of which asked about family support for problems
related to sexuality. Items were rated on a 5-point Likert
scale, indicating the likelihood of their family providing
various types of assistance (e.g. ‘‘would comfort me,’’ ‘‘try
to cheer me up’’). Good internal consistency has been
demonstrated for both sexuality-specific and non-sexuality
specific composites (a = .97–.98; Doty et al. 2010) and
was established in the current sample (a = .98). There
were no missing data on the SSB.
Preliminary analyses were conducted to obtain descriptive
data, examine correlations, and assess psychometric properties of the measures used. To test study hypotheses, LPA
was used to investigate the number of classes underlying
the multi-dimensional assessment of LGB identity. LPA is
a person-centered, latent variable approach used to classify
participants into optimal grouping categories, based on
common endorsement of continuous identity dimensions.
LPA allows identification of discrete latent variables based
on the scores from two or more observed variables
(McCutcheon 1987), and uses these latent variables to
characterize LGB youth by a pattern of complex identity
All analyses were conducted using Mplus 6.0 software
(Muthe´n and Muthe´n 1998–2012). The first set of analyses
identified LGB identity subgroups within the sample, with
five identity dimensions as indicators, using LPA. Full
information maximum likelihood (FIML) estimation was
used to identify the latent classes, under the assumption
that the data are missing at random (Little 1995), which is a
commonly recommended way of handling missing data
(Muthe´n and Shedden 1999; Schafer and Graham 2002).
Multiple start values were provided to encourage a proper
solution and avoid local maxima (Muthe´n and Muthe´n
1998–2012). LPA provides several fit indices to help assess
the fit of various solutions to the data, including the Akaike
Information Criterion (AIC), the Bayesian Information
Criterion (BIC; Schwarz 1978, Sclove 1987), entropy, the
Lo–Mendell–Rubin likelihood ratio test (Lo et al. 2001),
and the parametric bootstrapped likelihood ratio test
(McLachlan 1987). Lower AIC and BIC, higher entropy,
and significant Lo–Mendel–Rubin and bootstrap likelihood
ratio test values are indicative of better model fit (Henson
et al. 2007; Lo et al. 2001; McLachlan and Peel 2000;
Nylund et al. 2007; Yang 2006). As previous research
warns against the sole use of goodness-of-fit indices to
determine the ideal number of profiles, ease of interpretability, parsimony, and match to theory were also strongly
considered in choosing a profile solution (Muthe´n 2001;
Muthe´n and Muthe´n 2000; Vermunt and Magidson 2002).
Once a profile solution was selected, the second and third
study hypotheses were examined by conducting latent class
regressions to determine if demographic and parent
response variables were associated with class membership.
Preliminary Analyses
Means, standard deviations, frequencies, and zero-order
correlations among all study variables are provided in
Table 1. Mean levels of all identity dimensions fell within
the low to moderate range, meaning that participants in this
study, on average, did not experience high levels of identity
problems, which was expected given that it was a community sample. Youth reported moderate levels of sexuality-specific social support from parents, but significantly
higher levels of non-sexuality-specific social support,
t(167) = -9.09, p\.001. Youth also reported moderate
levels of parental rejection.
A series of MANOVAs were used to examine demographic group differences on the five LGBIS identity
scales. The overall main effect of ethnicity was not significant, F(2, 165) = .64, p = .81, ns, indicating that
Hispanic/Latino, White, non-Hispanic/Latino, and AfricanAmerican participants reported similar levels of functioning across the five subscales of the LGBIS. However,
the overall main effects of sexual orientation, F(2,
167) = 5.37, p\.001, and gender, F(1, 168) = 3.54,
p\.01, were significant, indicating that gay, lesbian, and
bisexual youth, and male and female youth, significantly
differed on the measures of identity. Follow-up univariate
analyses indicated that gay youth reported more internalized homonegativity than lesbian youth (p\.01), and
bisexual youth reported more identity uncertainty than both
gay and lesbian youth (ps\.001. Also, males reported
422 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430
greater identity difficulties than females (p\.01). Correlations between youth age and time since disclosure with
identity dimensions were also examined. As seen in
Table 1, youth age did not correlate significantly with any
of the LGBIS identity scales, while time since disclosure
was negatively correlated with identity difficulties on the
following scales: concealment motivation, acceptance
concerns, identity uncertainty, and difficult process. Sexual
orientation, gender, and time since disclosure were retained
as covariates in all future analyses. For sexual orientation,
to aid in interpretability and avoid overlap with gender, a
dummy code where gay/lesbian were coded as one group
and bisexual as the other was used. Although not significantly related to identity dimensions, youth age was
retained as a covariate based on prior research.
Latent Profile Analysis
A LPA was conducted to determine the optimal number of
classes of LGB identity and the dimensional characteristics
associated with each class. Five indicators were included in
these analyses: Internalized Homonegativity, Concealment
Motivation, Acceptance Concerns, Identity Uncertainty,
and Difficult Process. To determine the optimal solution,
we iteratively estimated one- to four-profile solutions,
which are summarized in Table 2. Fit indices, interpretability, and theoretical match were evaluated, and it was
determined that the two-profile solution was optimal
because of the better distribution of participants across
classes, acceptable fit indices, and interpretability of the
solution. Figure 1 presents the two patterns of identity
identified through LPA, using LGBIS subscales (scales
range from 1 to 7). The largest group (n = 135), labeled
affirmed identity, displays minimal internalized homonegativity (M = 1.58), acceptance concerns (M = 2.44),
identity uncertainty (M = 1.47), and difficult process
(M = 2.59), and moderate levels of concealment motivation (M = 3.82). The smaller group (n = 35), labeled
identity struggles, reported moderately low identity
uncertainty (M = 2.10), moderate levels of internalized
homonegativity (M = 3.40), and moderately high levels of
concealment motivation (M = 5.21), acceptance concerns
(M = 4.57), and difficult process (M = 4.61).
Predictors of Profile Membership
Based on prior literature and preliminary analyses, we
hypothesized that several demographic and parental
Table 1 Descriptive statistics and correlations between study variables (N = 169)
Mean SD Frequency
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Ethnicity – – –
Sexual orientation – –
1. Age 19.46 2.60 – –
2. Time since
2.99 2.42 – .40*** –
3. Gender (male/
– – 55.3/44.7 -.05 .08 –
1.96 1.08 – -.00 -.38 -.27*** –
5. Concealment
4.11 1.32 – .09 -.21** .01 .26** –
6. Acceptance concerns 2.88 1.34 – -.00 -.19* -.14 .43*** .56*** –
7. Identity uncertainty 1.61 1.09 – -.09 -.21** .08 .13 .19* .18* –
8. Difficult process 3.01 1.27 – -.01 -.23** -.20** .53*** .38*** .54*** .13 –
9. Parental rejection 66.61 31.20 – -.15 -.13 -.16 .349*** .13 .22* .02 .29** –
10. Sexuality-specific
social support
69.89 26.56 – .13 .14 -.07 -.22** -.21** -.11 .01 -.21** -.56*** –
11. Non-sexualityspecific social
85.07 24.07 – .15 .06 -.06 -.07 -.15 .00 .02 -.04 -.38*** .65***
* p B .05, ** p B .01, *** p B .001
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430 423
response variables would be associated with identity, and
consequently, profile membership. Youth age, sexual orientation, gender, length of time since disclosure to a parent,
parental rejection, non-sexuality-specific social support,
and sexuality-specific social support were entered as predictors of profile membership to determine if these demographics or parental responses distinguished among the
groups (see Fig. 2). With regard to demographic covariates, time since disclosure was significantly related to
profile membership, such that youth who had more recently
disclosed their sexual orientation to a parent were more
likely to be in the identity struggles profile. Youth age,
sexual orientation, and gender were unrelated to profile
With regard to parental responses, results indicated that
parental rejection and sexuality-specific social support
were significantly related to profile membership, though
gender was no longer significant. Less parental rejection
and more sexuality-specific social support were associated
with a greater likelihood of membership in the affirmed
identity profile than the identity struggles profile (see
Table 3). These findings suggest the salience of parental
rejection, even after length of time since disclosure has
been controlled for, and the importance of sexuality-specific social support, as opposed to general social support,
on identity development.
LGB youth form their sexual identity through the ‘‘coming
out’’ process to themselves and others, and this process can
be fraught with significant stress (Savin-Williams 2001).
There has been significant variability in the assessment of
LGB identity development, although recent research suggests that non-linear, multidimensional measurement best
characterizes the process, and that identity is impacted by
parental reactions (Rosario et al. 2008; Saewyc 2011). The
current study is among the first to examine LGB identity in
a person-centered, multi-dimensional manner, which
allows for multiple patterns and individuality in identities.
Most studies that create a single composite or use only a
single dimension fail to capture the complexity of sexual
identities in LGB youth. The LPA provides information
Table 2 Fit indices for latent profile analyses on sexual identity development
Log-likelihood No. free
AIC BIC Adjusted
BLRT Entropy Profile sample
1 Profile -1,360.342 10 2,740.685 2,771.984 – – – 169
2 Profiles -1,268.721 16 2,569.443 2,619.521 .0039 <.0001 .899 136/33
3 Profiles -1,231.691 22 2,507.383 2,576.241 .2585 \.0001 .941 134/22/13
4 Profiles -1,189.983 28 2,435.966 2,523.603 .5092 -\.0001 .961 118/24/16/11
Fit indices for the final solution are in bold
AIC Akaike information criterion, BIC Bayesian information criterion, LMR _LRT Lo–Mendell–Rubin likelihood ratio test, BLRT Bootstrap
likelihood ratio test
Fig. 1 Identity characteristics
of affirmed identity and identity
struggles profiles
424 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430
about the patterns of identity within a person, such that a
single person can be high on certain dimensions and low on
others. The study also provides initial evidence for the link
between parental rejection and support and LGB identity
among adolescents and young adults.
Patterns of Sexual Minority Identity
Consistent with our first hypothesis, LGB identity was
found to occur in one of two patterns. Most of the youth
were classified in an affirmed identity pattern, while a
smaller subset was classified in a pattern of identity
struggles. Youth in the affirmed identity profile were
characterized by lower levels of all five identity dimensions, as compared to the identity struggles profile, while
variability across dimensions remained within each profile.
Youth in the affirmed identity profile reported very low
internalized homonegativity and identity uncertainty, suggesting that they feel confident in their identification as a
LGB person and do not feel negatively about being a
sexual minority. In addition, they reported low levels of
difficulty coming out to friends and family and they had
minimal concerns about being accepted by others because
of their sexuality. Despite fairly low levels of difficulty
across other dimensions of identity, in the affirmed identity
profile, concealment motivations fell in the moderate
range, suggesting that moderate levels of privacy needs
occur in the same individuals who report especially low
levels of internalized homonegativity, acceptance concerns, identity confusion, and difficulties with the coming
out process. Needs for privacy are likely to be fairly normative in young adults (Margulis 2003; Westin 1967), and
therefore these data may reflect a developmentally appropriate expectation for privacy about sexuality that may
transcend sexual orientation.
The identity struggles profile indicates that some youth
struggle with their LGB identity. In the identity struggles
profile, identity confusion was relatively low, while all
other areas were moderately high. This suggests that even
when individuals experience other difficulties with regard
to their LGB identity, they are fairly certain about their
LGB status. While youth in this profile are, like the
affirmed identity group, fairly certain of their sexual orientation, youth who fit the identity struggles profile also
reported higher levels of internalized homonegativity,
concerns about how well they are accepted as LGB people,
and they indicated that the coming out process has been
difficult for them. Finally, the identity struggles profile
shows high levels of concealment motivation. While
Fig. 2 Path model of parental
response multivariate predictors
of profile comparisons
Table 3 Demographic/contextual and parental response multivariate
predictors of profile comparisons
Variable Affirmed identity versus
identity struggles
b SE z OR
Demographic/contextual ? parental responses
Age 0.29 0.15 1.93 1.34
Gender -0.77 0.77 -1.00 0.46
Sexual orientation 0.18 1.03 0.18 1.20
Time since disclosure -0.65** 0.23 -2.81 0.52
Parental rejection 0.03** 0.01 2.81 1.03
Sexuality-specific social support 0.01* 0.02 0.51 1.01
Non-sexuality-specific social
-0.03 0.02 -1.93 0.97
OR odds ratio
* p B .05, ** p B .01
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430 425
moderate levels of privacy can be considered normative,
the very high endorsement of need for privacy in this group
may reflect negative feelings and discomfort with their
orientation, and perhaps a desire to stay ‘‘closeted’’ to
avoid confronting these feelings or risking negative reactions from others.
The affirmed identity profile is the larger of the two
profiles (n = 135 vs. n = 35), with means on the identity
dimensions similar to the standardization sample (Mohr
and Fassinger 2000). These data are encouraging in that
they suggest that the majority of LGB youth may be likely
to experience affirmed identity. This is an important finding, as there is significant controversy regarding how ‘‘at
risk’’ LGB youth are (Savin-Williams 2001), and how
vulnerable to maladjustment they may be in terms of
identity, given the challenges that they face as sexual
minority individuals. One of the important contributions of
the LPA, however, is that it allowed for an understanding
that not one but two profiles fit the data provided by the
youth in the sample. The presence of a group classified as
struggling with their identities provides empirical evidence
that there may be legitimate concerns for a sizable minority
LGB youth (21 % in the present sample), as they come to
terms with who they are. While most LGB youth may not
be at risk for a negative sense of self, these data suggest
that not all are immune to the difficulties that may exist. If
the LGB identity dimensions were examined using a more
traditional variable-centered approach, such as a path
analysis, the intraindividual variability across dimensions
could not be established. The identification of these patterns provides essential information about which levels are
fairly normative within each profile.
Furthermore, the use of profiles generated by LPA
across multiple dimensions helps differentiate those individuals who may report similar levels on some dimensions
(i.e. identity uncertainty), but drastically different levels on
others (i.e. internalized homonegativity). In this study, both
the affirmed and the struggling profile groups reported low
identity uncertainty, but they differed substantially in terms
of internalized homonegativity, acceptance concerns, concealment motivations, and how difficult the coming out
process has been for them. Recognizing whether or not
there is a group of LGB youth who are vulnerable to
identity problems, and what might constitute areas of
identity particularly at risk, was one of the major goals of
the current study.
Multiple factors may contribute to variability in LGB
identity development. Our second hypothesis related to
demographic variables, examining gender, sexual orientation, age, time since coming out, and ethnicity as possible
predictors of sexual identity. Only time since disclosure
remained important in predicting identity classification,
such that youth who had more recently disclosed their
sexual orientation to a parent were more likely to be
classified into the identity struggles profile. It is also of
note that despite a moderate correlation with age, only time
since disclosure was a significant demographic covariate
with the LGB identity profiles. No matter the age of an
individual, the length of time that he or she has been out to
a parent plays a more salient role with regard to their LGB
identity. This is particularly important information for
interventionists to keep in mind when providing services
for LGB youth, as they may need to focus treatment more
on family responses early after disclosure, and less after
time passes.
The Impact of Family Responses on Identity Patterns
Data supported the third hypothesis that family responses
are related to LGB identity profile membership. Parental
rejection and sexuality-specific social support were both
associated with affirmed profile membership. Consistent
with prior research (Doty et al. 2010), non-sexuality-specific social support was unrelated to profile membership.
Even though adolescence and young adulthood are distinguished by increasing autonomy from parents (Arnett
2000), study findings indicate that parental acceptance and
sexuality-specific support remain critical protective
resources for LGB youth in these developmental stages.
Furthermore, results suggest that even if families provide
non-sexuality-specific support, sexuality related identity
struggles and high parental rejection remain linked to LGB
identity. By identifying parental rejection and sexualityspecific social support as the more salient family influences
of LGB identity, interventions can directly target these
factors, instead of broadly targeting parental support in
general. Working with families of sexual minority youth
may help guide family members to become skilled at
providing appropriate and useful support to their child,
which may promote positive identity development for
youth. Limited interventions exist that are informed by
science for families with LGB youth. Data such as these in
the present study can be used to inform and increase
specificity of family interventions, which will likely result
in increased benefit for both LGB youth and their families
alike. Importantly, these dimensions of the family support
system were linked with identity processes, even after
controlling for time since disclosure. Thus, while LGB
sense of identity does seem to improve with time (though
only longitudinal data can truly demonstrate this), parental
responses still matter.
Limitations and Future Directions
While this study offers a clear contribution to the literature
on LGB identity in LGB young people, it remains subject
426 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430
to several limitations. First, the cross-sectional nature of
this study limits interpretation of the directionality of links
between family processes and LGB identity. Prior research
(Rosario et al. 2008) with a prospective sample of youth
found that family support was an important predictor of
positive aspects of LGB identity over time, consistent with
study findings. Additional research with longitudinal
designs will be important to evaluate the relationship
between family processes (including parental acceptance or
rejection and sexuality specific social support, among other
variables) with LGB identity development over time. Such
studies will be able to identify both the order of effects and
the degree of consistency and change in sexual identity
Another important limitation relates to the generalizability of study findings. Attempts were made in the current
study to diversify the sample with multiple recruitment
strategies. Nevertheless, the majority of participants, similar to other studies, were recruited through community
organizations that serve sexual minority youth. Participants
of such organizations may not represent the larger LGB
population who are not involved in community or university-based organizations (Meyer and Colten 1999). Furthermore, participants only were included in the study if
they identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Therefore,
sexual minority individuals who do not identify with LGB
labels, but do experience same-sex attractions, may not be
represented by the study sample. Additionally, youth under
18 were required to obtain parental consent and consequently were required to be out to at least one parent; in
fact, the majority of study participants were out to a parent.
These participants may not be representative of youth who
are not out to a parent. In particular, one might expect
youth who are not out to a parent, or who are out but were
hesitant to ask for parental consent to participate in the
study, would report greater identity struggles, such as
concealment motivation, acceptance concerns, and possible
internalized homonegativity. The inclusion of a substantial
number of individuals who are not involved in community
organizations, out to a parent, or self-identified as LGB,
while challenging to recruit, might reveal additional profiles of identity development.
A third limitation is with regard to sample size. Despite
a moderate sample size, sufficient to detect medium to
large effect size at power = .80 (Cohen 1992), analyses
may have neglected to detect smaller effect sizes. Some
research has begun to examine the interaction between
ethnic and sexual minority statuses (i.e., gay and AfricanAmerican; Gallor and Fassinger 2010). Despite ethnic and
sexual orientation diversity in this sample, this study could
not evaluate these types of interactions due to sample size
limitations. Additionally, the LPA revealed some results
that might have suggested a three-group solution fit the
data, but this solution was unstable due to small profile
sizes (i.e., n = 13). An increased number of participants, as
well as an increased diversity of participants, might yield
additional profile solutions not represented in this study.
Research and Clinical Implications
Results of the current investigation may have important
implications for clinical work and policy regarding LGB
youth. Although approximately 20 % of youth in the study
fell into the identity struggles profile, the majority did not.
This highlights the considerable resiliency of sexual
minority youth against identity struggles in the face of
negative family reactions and societal stigma, and it suggests that parental acceptance and sexuality-specific social
support may be two protective factors. Results of this study
also highlight the need for family-centered approaches to
intervention with LGB youth (Willoughby and Doty 2010).
Clinically, treatments that improve parents’ ability to offer
acceptance and sexuality-specific social support to their
youth may be crucial for LGB identity development. Given
the implications of identity struggles, such as the data
linking internalized homonegativity with mental health
difficulties (Newcomb and Mustanski 2010), it is important
to intervene with families and help support acceptance.
However, not all parents will be able to offer acceptance,
due to their own expectations for their child, as well as
their beliefs and values, and, therefore, interventions for
youth should focus on barriers to obtaining acceptance. For
instance, youth may benefit from ‘‘coming out’’ only to
parents whom they perceive would be likely to offer
acceptance, or to seek alternative sources of acceptance
and support from peers and extended family. From a policy
perspective, the present study provides data that suggest
that when LGB youth feel that they have support and
assistance that is not just general but focused on their
sexuality, particularly from parents, fewer youth will
experience struggles about who they are. LGB youth are
likely to benefit from policies, programs, and interventions
that improve their ability to access acceptance and support,
especially from their families.
Results of the current investigation highlight that family
responses are related in important ways to perceptions of
self and identity in LGB youth. In comparison to prior
research, which has primarily used single dimensions and
variable-centered approaches to assess identity, the current
study, by using LPA, was able to show that parental
rejection of youth’s sexual orientation increases the likelihood of youth experiencing identity struggles. When
J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430 427
young people are less sure of themselves and less secure in
who they are, it may be difficult for them to assert themselves or protect themselves in vulnerable situations. The
adolescent literature has shown consistent links between
low self-esteem and victimization (Hawker and Boulton
2000). Recent suicides of young gay men have shown how
devastating the consequences of a combination of low selfesteem and peer victimization can be in LGB youth. Along
with a stronger sense of confidence and identity, sexualityspecific social support may provide LGB youth with the
strength to feel good about themselves, even if they are in
vulnerable situations. Our study found that when youth felt
that parents provided support and assistance with solving
problems related to their sexual orientation, youth were
more likely to feel more positive about their own LGB
Earlier research has established the importance of
identity for psychosocial outcomes (Morris 1997; Rosario
et al. 2001, 2011). This study examines predictors of
identity, and in so doing, provides avenues for prevention
of LGB youth difficulties by focusing on how important
parents are to these youth. Two specific targets for intervention are how parents respond to youth’s disclosure of
sexual orientation and, over time, how well they are able to
help their LGB children cope with the stressors that come
from being a sexual minority. The process of accepting that
a child may be lesbian, gay, or bisexual may be a very
difficult one for parents. Parents even may feel rejected
when their children come out. Data from the present study,
however, make it clear how strong ties remain between
LGB youth and their parents. Particularly for parents who
are struggling, understanding how much influence their
support has on their children’s sense of self may, in many
cases, provide the motivation needed to help parents accept
and embrace their LGB children.
Acknowledgments This research was supported by a grant from the
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development (R01 HD055372-01A2) awarded to Neena
M. Malik. We thank all of the families who so graciously gave of their
time to participate in the research project.
Conflict of interest The authors declare that they have no conflict
of interest.
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Willoughby, B. B., Doty, N. D., & Malik, N. M. (2010). Victimization, family rejection, and outcomes of gay, lesbian, and bisexual
young people: The role of negative GLB identity. Journal of
GLBT Family Studies, 6(4), 403–424.
Willoughby, B. B., Malik, N. M., & Lindahl, K. M. (2006). Parental
reactions to their sons’ sexual orientation disclosures: The roles
of family cohesion, adaptability, and parenting style. Psychology
of Men & Masculinity, 7(1), 14–26.
Worthington, R. L., Navarro, R. L., Savoy, H., & Hampton, D.
(2008). Development, reliability, and validity of the Measure of
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Author Biographies
Hallie R. Bregman is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Child
Psychology at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. Her
major research interests include parent–child relationships, family
functioning, mental health in youth and adolescence, and parental
acceptance of sexual minority youth.
Dr. Neena M. Malik is the Psychology Training Director at the
Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami
Miller School of Medicine in Miami, Florida. She received her PhD in
Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Denver. Her major
research interests include the power, conflict, and violence in the
marriage, family processes and child functioning, and sexual minority
youth and their families.
Matthew J. L. Page is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Child
Psychology at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. His
major research interests include sexual identity, religiosity, and
family functioning in sexual minority youth.
Emily Makynen is a undergraduate student in Psychology at the
University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. Her major research
interests include industrial/organizational psychology and human
Dr. Kristin M. Lindahl is an Associate Professor in Clinical
Psychology at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. She
received her PhD in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of
Denver. Her major research interests include the relation of family
processes to child outcomes, marital conflict, and family relationships
among sexual minority youth.
430 J Youth Adolescence (2013) 42:417–430

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