Ways to Create a Welcoming Research Environment for LGBTQIA+ Participants

Krystal Rudyk, Marketing Manager

Whether your research is specifically focusing on members of the LGBTQIA+ community or not, it’s always beneficial to make your research environment as comfortable as possible for all participants. Taking special care to make members of minority groups feel safe in expressing their opinions, even ones that may not be visible to you when recruiting your participants, can lead to more honest responses and better research outcomes overall. In honor of Pride Month, we’ve put together a few tips for making your next research project more welcoming for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

1. The Moderator

In a focus group or interview, effective moderation is the key to receiving honest responses and achieving good research outcomes. Members of minority communities can often feel less comfortable expressing their honest experiences and opinions, especially when they are in the company of members of the majority group, so having a moderator that participants can relate to goes a long way to maximizing honest responses. If you know your project will include members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or if your research is LGBTQIA+ specific, try to choose a moderator that you think will make your participants feel comfortable and find relatable. If the moderator themselves is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, have them share some of their own experiences to lead by example in terms of openness and vulnerability.

If the moderator is not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is still important for them to showcase their personality and be open about personal experiences in the focus group in order to and establish their allyship. That being said, it’s also important not to “force things” or to appear disingenuous. We’ve all experienced examples of well-meaning people inducing cringes with some variation of “Oh, I love [insert any minority group here] people, one of my best friends is [that same minority group]!” so be sure to avoid this type of discourse. If you’re moderating a group and are asking people to share examples of times they were uncomfortable, share an example of when you were uncomfortable because of something that relates to YOU. And remember, as Canadian Viewpoint notes, a successful moderator admits ignorance. If the moderator is unfamiliar with something the participant is speaking about, it is important for them to confess their lack of knowledge on the subject rather than pretending to know. The whole point of research is to learn, so there’s no reason to pretend to know things that you don’t know. To learn more on successfully moderating focus groups and online discussion boards, click here!


2. The Methodology

As mentioned above, members of any minority group, LGBTQIA+ included, may feel less comfortable expressing honest opinions around new people, especially those in the majority group. One way to minimize this effect, if your project allows for it, is anonymity. Text-based focus groups and online discussion boards (that don’t use participants’ real names as usernames) both allow for anonymity without necessarily sacrificing anything in terms of data collection.  As LaForge et al. noted in their own study on online qualitative research,

Participant anonymization can be beneficial for group-based data collection (Ayling & Mewse, 2009). Lack of anonymity within in-person focus groups may enable members of dominant social groups (for example, people who are white, male, cis-gendered, or able-bodied) to remain privileged within data collection. Moreover, individuals may feel pressure to acquiesce to group norms and expectations with an in-person focus group (Graffigna & Bosio, 2006Sim, 1998). Within [online discussion boards], gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability status, and other characteristics are unknown.

Additionally, some text-based focus group and online discussion board platforms (like itracks Realtime and itracks Board) offer an “uninfluenced” question type which hides other participants’ responses until a user has submitted their own response, minimizing group think. These platforms even offer an extra step of privacy in terms of responses, in that participants can choose to message the moderator directly as opposed to posting something in the group if it is especially sensitive.


3. Language

Using inclusive language is important, all the way from recruitment to reporting. There are many tiny details that people who are not members of the LGBTQIA+ community may fail to notice that can make an environment less welcoming for those who are. Details like:

  • Making sure your participant registration forms don’t contain any limiting or discriminatory language or fields. For example, asking participants to indicate whether they are male or female, or limiting pronoun selection to masculine and feminine options (both or which are considered binary assumptive).
  • Taking care to note everyone’s preferred pronouns either before the discussion begins, or during the introduction stage. While you may think that you won’t need them when talking directly to someone, you’ll likely find that you use pronouns in conversation more than you realized. Saying something like “Participant 1 shared her experience, does anyone else have one to share?” when Participant 1 doesn’t use she/her pronouns is an easy mistake to avoid if you make the effort to do so, and can go a long way to making Participant 1 more willing to share their experiences going forward.
  • Making sure your discussion guide doesn’t include any binary assumptive language, or that you don’t accidentally slip any into your discussion – for example “Hello ladies and gentlemen!” while seeming harmless, can actually be alienating to people whose gender identity is neither male nor female.

If you’re concerned that this might accidentally occur, be sure to choose a platform with a built-in discussion guide tool and be specific when planning yours out. Instead of just writing “Greeting/introductions”,” type out a script for yourself with more inclusive language, like “Hi everyone! To begin, I’d like to go around our virtual room here and have everyone state their name, preferred pronouns, and favorite food.”

This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you’re unsure what’s considered inclusive language, you may want to check out an online guide like this one by the University of Maryland’s LGBT Equity Center to aid you in developing your research materials.

Every research project, no matter the research subject, can benefit from creating a more welcoming, inclusive environment for all involved. If you haven’t already, do an audit of your next upcoming project and check:

  • Will participants feel comfortable opening up to the moderator in my project? Is there anything I can do to increase this comfort?
  • Have I chosen the methodology which will elicit the most open, honest responses from my participants?
  • Do all parts of my project, from recruiting and registration to the discussion guide and closing communications contain inclusive language?

With a little extra attention to detail, you can make your next research project more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, benefitting your participants and your research outcomes alike!

We’d love to help you get started on your next research project. Please reach out to us here!