Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Mary Garrett

Abstract

This dissertation explores the website usage of adolescent sexual minorities, examining notions of information seeking and sexual identity development. Sexual information seeking is an important element within human information behavior and is uniquely problematic for young sexual minorities. Utilizing a contemporary gay teen website, this five-year virtual ethnography of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) youth demonstrates an understanding of the function of the Internet as an invaluable tool for exploring social and psychological needs while providing anonymity and keeping information-seeking behavior relatively unknown. The use of Chatman's (1996) Information Impoverished Theory and Cass's (1979) Model of Gay and Lesbian Identity Formation aids the analysis of this particular culture's information- seeking behavior and sexual orientation identity formation. As a result, a number of salient themes are revealed, including exploration of and experimentation with sexuality; struggles with identity; ascertaining a social network; the "coming out" process; sexual identity confusion; and negative effects associated with homosexuality, such as low self-esteem, suicide, and conflict surrounding religious ideology. In addition, the findings suggest that sexual prejudice is a pervasive issue for this community and that the use of a gay teen chat forum is an effective means of ethnographic data collection. This dissertation concludes by identifying limitations and offering insights for further inquiry into the communication behavior of adolescent sexual minorities.

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