Identity, Culture, and Articulation: A Critical-Cultural Analysis of Strategic LGBT Advocacy Outreach
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This study examines how LGBT activists and LGBT youth make meaning of a strategic advocacy campaign. By examining activist and advocacy efforts aimed at youth, this research brings to light how LGBT organizations use campaigns to articulate identity and, conversely, how LGBT youth articulate notions of identity. Through the lens of the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit activist organization, this dissertation uses in-depth interviews with organizational members and chat-based interviews with LGBT youth to study the meanings participants brought to the campaign. Strategic communication has been instrumental in construction of LGBT as a cohesive collective identity and has played a vital role in the early stages of the gay rights movement. This research demonstrates how contemporary LGBT advocacy, through strategic communication, works to shape understandings of LGBT youth. Instead of focusing on the Internet as a democratic space that equalizes power differentials between an organization and its publics, this study shows that the construction of identity is the result of a dynamic process between producers and consumers in which power is localized and does not simply belong to an organization or its public. This research challenges the Internet as a democratic space and demonstrates that identity is a discursive struggle over meaning that is bound up in the intimate dance between producers and consumers of a campaign. In contrast to functionalist understandings of public relations that privileges the organization, this dissertation contends that a cultural-economic approach focuses on the processes of communication. A cultural-economic approach gives voice to the diverse audiences of a communication campaign and addresses the role communication plays as a discursive force that influences the construction of identities.