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Gays in the Gang

NCJ Number
Journal of Gang Research Volume: 19 Issue: 2 Dated: Winter 2012 Pages: 1-24
Mark Totten, M.S.W., R.S.W., Ph.D.
Date Published
24 pages
This paper reports on the experiences of 15 gay, bisexual, and transsexual (GBT) youth gang members who engaged in serious street violence.
These acts often endangered the lives of others. It is based upon an ethnographic study of how youth gang members aged 14-20 years accounted for their physical, sexual, and emotional violence against heterosexual peers, strangers, sexual minorities, and racial minorities. In-depth interviews and participant observation methods were used. A main objective was to understand GBT gang members' use of violence in a heterosexual gang context from their perspective. There is no existing literature on this topic. The pressure to conform to heterosexism and homophobia, along with repressed homosexuality, are key to understanding the motives behind violence used by gay, bisexual, and transsexual youth. The experiences of gay and bisexual young men in homophobic environments likely take on significantly different meanings than those of girls who identified as bisexual in correctional settings. Their gangs were not monolithic. Gender role construction was an ongoing process for these youth, negotiated and developed with limited resources at hand. Their life courses were all very different. Some said that they chose a pathway out of traditional gender roles to separate themselves from the violence of their caregivers. Other participants reported that they always knew that they were gay. Finally, some disclosed that they became aware of their identities in early adolescence. Rejected by their families in large part due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, they turned to street families and gangs for a sense of belonging and support. However, most indicate that if other heterosexual gang members discovered their sexual orientation or gender identity, they would have been severely beaten or killed. None were part of gangs where other members identified as GBT. All participated in severe, public beatings of individuals the gangs considered to be gay or sexually abnormal. Research policy and clinical implications are discussed. (Published Abstract)