School of Behavioral Sciences


Doctor of Education in Community Care and Counseling (EdD)


Tracy Baker


sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, adolescence, microaggressions, microaffirmations, school climate


Counseling | Education


Despite societal and cultural trends toward acceptance, the LGBTQ+ community continues to endure stressors related to their minority status, often in the form of microaggressions. As the average age of “coming out” is much younger than in years past, a greater number of adolescents are now subject to these same stressors. Accordingly, this qualitative phenomenological study sought to examine the experiences of school counselors who support LGBTQ+ students at the middle school level to determine their perceptions related to safety, acceptance, and inclusion for this vulnerable population. Additionally, the impact of microaggressions and microaffirmations on LGBTQ+ students was explored. This research was shaped by three fundamental research questions: 1) From the perspective of school counselors, what factors related to school climate are most impactful in creating a safe, accepting, and inclusive school community for LGBTQ+ middle school students, 2) what incidents of microaggression have been experienced by LGBTQ+ youth in middle school, as perceived by school counselors, and 3) what incidents of microaffirmation have been experienced by LGBTQ+ youth in middle school, as perceived by school counselors? The sample was comprised of 15 school counselors representing 12 states in the United States. Data was collected through a demographic survey and semi-structured individual interviews conducted via the Zoom virtual conference platform. From these interviews, seven foundational themes emerged, including emerging trends, safety, acceptance, inclusion, microaggressions, microaffirmations, and overcoming obstacles. As LGBTQ+ research historically focuses on individuals of high school age or older, the findings of this study addressed a gap in the literature by considering factors specific to a younger adolescent cohort. Furthermore, insight gained from this research may be used to improve school climate and, consequently, the mental health and well-being of this marginalized population.