Theses Doctoral

A Case Study Exploring the Agency of Black LGBTQ+ Youth in NYC's Ballroom Culture

Reid, Shamari K.

Recognizing the importance of context with regard to youth agency, this study explores how 8 Black LGBTQ+ youth understand their practices of agency in ballroom culture, an underground Black LGBTQ+ culture. Ballroom was chosen as the backdrop for this scholarly endeavor because it allowed for the study of the phenomenon — Black LGBTQ+ youth agency — in a space where the youth might feel more able to be themselves, especially given that the 2019 Black LGBTQ+ youth report published by the Human Rights Campaign revealed that only 35% of Black LGBTQ+ youth reported being able to “be themselves at school” (Kahn et al., 2019). Thus, instead of asking what is wrong with schools, this study inverted the question to explore what is “right” about ballroom culture in which Black LGBTQ+ youth might practice different kinds of agency due to their intersectional racial and LGBTQ+ identities being recognized and celebrated. Framed by the youth’s understanding of their own agency across different contexts, my research illuminates the complex interrelationships between youth agency, social identity, and context.

Extending the literature on youth agency and Black LGBTQ+ youth, the findings of this study suggest that in many ways these youth are always already practicing agency to work toward different ends, and that these different end goals are greatly mediated by the contexts in which they find themselves. In making connections between the ways Black LGBTQ+ youth feel liberated within ballroom space to use their agency to explore and affirm their identities outside socially constructed norms, the findings of this study point to new opportunities for education research, practice, and policy to learn from ballroom culture about how to better invite Black LGBTQ+ youth into schools in humane and educative ways, encourage their agentive imaginations within education spaces, and promote liberatory school environments that recognize and embrace these youth’s intersectional identities.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Knight-Manuel, Michelle Georgia
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2021