Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Heidi M. Levitt

Second Advisor

David W. Pantalone

Third Advisor

Laurel Wainwright


Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people face the burden of additional stressors as a result of their experiences of stigma and discrimination regarding their sexual minority status. Parental rejection of LGB people in the context of heterosexism serves as a powerful minority stressor associated with poorer mental health (e.g., Bouris et al., 2010; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009). Few contemporary theories exist to describe the experience of parental rejection. In addition, the extant empirical research has focused primarily on youth experiences among White and urban LGB samples, signaling the need for research across the lifespan investigating more diverse samples. Moreover, prior published studies have not focused directly on how LGB people cope with parental rejection, but rather on the negative consequences associated with the rejection more generally. For the current study, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 15 LGB and queer (LGBQ) people about their experiences coping with parental rejection using retrospective recall questions. I sought to maximize diversity in the realms of experiences of parental rejection, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender, age, and U.S. regions. I analyzed the data using an adaptation of grounded theory methodology based upon the work of psychologist David Rennie (e.g., Rennie, Phillips, & Quartaro, 1988). The core category that emerged was: Parental rejection was experienced as harmfully corrective and then internalized; reframing the rejection as heterosexism mitigated internalized heterosexism and enabled adaptive acceptance strategies. The findings documented the common experiences shared by participants, which led to an original stage model of coping with heterosexism parental rejection, a central contribution of this study. In addition to contributing to the empirical understanding of how LGBQ people cope with parental rejection related to their sexual orientation, my findings can guide clinicians working with this population to maximize their clients’ adaptive coping. Parental rejection is a complex process that impacts LGBQ people in a wide range of arenas and requires a multi-dimensional coping approach, drawing upon both internal resources and reliance on community supports.