Retrospective accounts of first exposure to minoritized sexual and gender identities

Samuel T. Bruun, Rachel H. Farr, Kay Simon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although there has been considerable research about attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, there has been little research into how people first come to be aware of minoritized sexual and gender minority (SGM) identities. This study sought to address this gap. A sample of sexual minority (n = 150) and heterosexual (n = 802) young adults (N = 952; Mage= 18.88 years, SD = 1.75; 949 were cisgender, three were transgender), primarily recruited from a large southern university, were asked retrospectively to recount their first exposure to or awareness of SGM identities. Responses between SGM and heterosexual participants were compared through a variety of analytical approaches, including analyzing themes about the source from which participants first recalled encountering these identities, and whether understanding about these identities came through a personal connection to someone with these identities. SGM participants reported encountering minoritized sexual identities a year earlier than did heterosexual participants, with both groups encountering these concepts in middle childhood, on average. SGM participants were more likely than heterosexual participants to report learning about minoritized gender identities from someone with a minoritized gender identity, while heterosexual participants more often reported learning about these identities from media or celebrities. Heterosexual (vs. SGM) participants were also more likely to imply that minoritized gender identities were adopted to be popular, rather than being authentic identities in themselves. Framed by developmental intergroup theory (DIT), we discuss implications of these findings, especially potential interrelationships with the development of prejudiced attitudes about SGM identities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-46
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • LGBTQ+
  • adolescent
  • qualitative
  • retrospective
  • sexual minority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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