Cycles of Fear: A Model of Lesbian and Gay Educational Leaders' Lived Experiences

Mary J. deLeon, C. Cryss Brunner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: The article's purpose is to highlight a national qualitative study that generated a model for understanding how society's actions and attitudes affect and inform the lived experiences of lesbian/gay (LG) educational leaders. Research Methods/Approach: Three bodies of literature informed the methods of the study: queer legal theory, critical phenomenology, and poststructural hermeneutics. Seventeen volunteer participants identified as out or closeted LG educational leaders and replied via e-mail (to a safe contact) to a national invitation to participate. To provide anonymity, a virtual laboratory allowed participants to interact anonymously through the use of focus groups, interviews, written responses, and private/public messaging tools. Data analysis was conducted after themes or categories emerged and data was coded and categorized. Findings: The findings culminated in conclusions illustrated in the Cycles of Fear model. First, study participants moved from silence to voice and back again, with varying intensity. Second, participants move beyond oppression was extremely difficult. Third, participants conquered fear and oppression, thereby creating gains. Fourth, experiences of fear were integrated into participants' very being-their identity. Fifth, as leaders' strength/visibility increased, society's homophobic fears created increased intolerance and hostility. Finally, when a new fear cycle began, the leaders became stronger and more resilient. Implications for Research and Practice: The discussions, conclusions, and the model drawn from this study's findings are instructive for (a) LG educational leaders who have had very little support in their professional and personal lives, (b) leadership preparation programs/professors that/who in the past have ignored this populations' existence and oppression, (c) policy makers, and (d) further research-the model can serve as a data analysis tool for future studies, and the anonymous research design could be duplicated to lower the risk for LGBT participants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-203
Number of pages43
JournalEducational Administration Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The website development of the anonymous data collection process used in this study was supported financially by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities’ Schochet GLBT Research Award.

Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • critical qualitative methods
  • educational leadership
  • lesbian and gay educational leaders
  • lived experiences
  • queer studies


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