Coming out to family and community
Miller, Shannon Janaye
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Conclusions for the influence of African American lesbians’ social context and their coming out experiences primarily that widespread homophobia in African American families and communities’ isolate lesbians; and in turn, lead lesbians to deny or avoid disclosing their homosexual identity. With such conclusions in place, there is little effort to develop a comprehensive and culturally relevant analysis of lesbian identity development as it relates to African American mother-daughter bonds. The studies in this project are a chronicle of the coming out narratives of five young African American lesbians (26 to 30 years of age). Study 1 is an analysis of African American lesbian daughters coming out stories to their mothers. Daughters believed that mothers allowed space for their lesbian identity in spite of mothers’ messages about religion, fear of homophobia, personal homophobic beliefs, and/or ideal womanhood. Women did not have any regrets about coming out but instead reflected on best approaches to come out. Study 2 is an analysis of the stories of two African American lesbians (ages 26 and 27) that reveal their lesbian identity development and how they defined and navigated don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t ask, don’t tell refers to the reality that sexual minorities are accepted in the context of African American families and communities as long as they do not label themselves or acknowledge publicly that they engage in same sex relationships. The implementation of this policy within their families was found to affect their lesbian identity development. They encountered challenges and successes in a quest to find communities that would embrace and affirm their multiple marginalized identities. One woman found a African American lesbian community that provided positive affirmation of her identities and consequently maintained lesbian identity pride even within the confines of don’t ask, don’t tell, where the second woman did not such a community. There stories are offered as a point of entry to further inquiry concerning the diversity of mother-daughter relationships among African American lesbians and their mothers, as well as issues of lesbian visibility and identity affirmation within African American families and communities.