Queering the Local: Literacy, Ethics and Youth Activism in Los Angeles


This research project focuses on youth conducting activism and community organizing around LGBTQIA rights and issues. This study specifically addresses sexuality and gender with youth in Los Angeles, within the context of identity-based political and social activism outside of schools. This work is fundamentally about literacy in that it aims to assess the critical literacy praxis youth engage in as they participate in forms of sociopolitical activism. 

The proposed work is a continuation of the Drop Knowledge Project, a situated educational activist study conducted collaboratively with urban youth. The first instantiation of the Drop Knowledge Project was completed in New York City. The next phase of this study is currently being prepared for launch in Los Angeles, focusing on queer youth activists who are recent high school graduates. This second phase extends emerging research around urban youth organizing. This place-based study will involve two central elements of post-structural mixed-method educational research: interview and conceptual mapping. All participants for semi-structured interviews will be selected through a process of snowball sampling. All conceptual mapping will be conducted collaboratively with participants to highlight conceptual, physical and narrative locales for queer youth activism and organizing. 



The central research question guiding this study is: how do urban youth organizers build positive social movement around LGBTQIA issues that contribute to ethically rich, safe and respectful spaces for sustainable living in Los Angeles? 

The goal of this data collection is four-fold: (1) to explore how urban youth organizers engage in critical literacy praxis in their activism and organizing around LGBTQIA rights and issues; (2) to examine how urban youth organizers articulate their identities as they continue to become activists; (3) to consider the implications that the various articulations of participants may have in the further study of queer youth organizing; and (4) to facilitate a dialogue about and around queer organizing with activists, educators, and researchers that contributes to greater connectivity and collectivity.


The research project will include a diverse range of participants from across demographic groups, where recruitment is conducted through various youth development and community-based organizations in the Los Angeles area. Broadly speaking, potential youth participants are racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse, and the majority of participants come from Los Angeles neighborhoods and ethnic groups that are largely underrepresented at American universities and in many professional spheres. Specific participants will be selected through a process of purposeful sampling to access a diverse and robust sample of individual activists.

To explore the expertise of participants in this study, the bulk of data will be collected through semi-structured interviews. The aim of the interviews will be to identify and characterize the intense-positioning of these urban youth organizers as they become activists around LGBTQIA rights and issues. Each interview will be semi-structured with ethnographic questions that are descriptive, structural, and contrasting in order to explore emergent themes. The expectation is that over time, participants will become better at talking in more sophisticated forms about their experiences of activism and organizing around LGBTQIA rights and issues.

The conclusions of this study will provide an ethical-political platform, leveraging the data sources provided, to depict and interrogate the variety of skills and motivations youth bring to the work of queer organizing and activism. Ethics is key here because of the central contention that moralism is anti-productive and anti-intellectual. This reading is therefore part of a politics of refusal against oppressive meaning making. It is youth who should control and structure the narrative of their motivations to engage in queer organizing and activism. This approach is intentionally negotiable, non-totalizing and does not defer solely to the authority of the researcher in final analysis.

Initial design for this research inspired by the UCLA Center for the Study of Women