Ethical Considerations for LGBTQ-related Research

Rachel Wexelbaum & Gesina A. Phillips

When preparing for research, it is important to begin to learn about the community (or communities) that you have chosen to study. Awareness of LGBTQ terminology, identity development, and the living conditions of LGBTQ people will provide necessary context. Before you locate and evaluate LGBTQ information sources, please consider the following points:

  • Many communities, one acronym: Remember that the LGBTQ acronym encompasses many diverse individuals and experiences. In fact, there are multiple formulations of the acronym (e.g. LGBTQIA, QUILTBAG), and letters which sometimes serve more than one function (e.g. Q for queer, questioning). In this chapter, the authors have used the acronym LGBTQ to refer to a large spectrum of identities. When speaking about a particular population, however, more specific terms (e.g. gay, lesbian) may be more appropriate to use than an inclusive acronym due to the differences in experience among various groups. Remember also that an individual might identify in multiple ways (e.g. a bisexual transgender person).
  • Intersectional identities: The concept of intersectionality (coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw) focuses on how interlocking systems of oppression affect marginalized individuals. Remember to consider how other aspects of an individual’s identity (race, ethnicity, class, country of origin, religion, disability status, etc.) interact with their LGBTQ identity. Avoid treating the different aspects of a person’s identity separately, and instead engage in a holistic examination of the various systems of privilege and marginalization that act upon them.
  • Pronouns and binaries: Be careful not to make assumptions about the individuals that you study. Use caution when applying modern labels to a historical subject. If an individual refers to themselves using particular pronouns, use those pronounsif they use “zir,” do not substitute “their,” for example. Be wary of binaries. Do not erase bisexuality or pansexuality by insisting on a gay/straight binary. Do not erase intersex or non-binary individuals by insisting on a male/female binary. Be mindful of emergent terminology, the explicit identification of LGBTQ individuals, and the variety of experiences within the LGBTQ community.

Careful consideration of these topics will help you in later stages of your research as you begin to develop your question, form a search strategy, and synthesize the information that you find into a paper, presentation, or other form of scholarship.