Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fassingers’s Model of Gay and Lesbian Identity Development Summarized by Carol Macnichol

Overview of theory

Fassingers’s model of gay and lesbian identity development identifies two different processes that explain the development and attitudes of gay and lesbian (GL) individuals. The two processes are individual sexual identity development and group membership identity development. Both of these development processes each has four phases: awareness, exploration, deepening/commitment and internalization/synthesis. GL students can be at different phases of their development in both individual sexual identity and group membership identity (Evans et. al., 2010).

In the first phase, students become aware of the different types of sexual feelings and desires. This may lead to confusion and fear. As part of group membership identity, they discover that there are other people who are experiencing the same kind of sexual orientation. In the second phase, students start to explore their feelings of attraction towards an individual or individuals of the same sex. In this phase of group membership identity, students explore their relationships to the GL community. The third phase of deepening/commitment is where students have a stronger knowledge of self and commit to the identity of gay or lesbian. In group identity development, students develop a greater understanding of the values and oppression of the GL community and commit to be involved in such a community. In the last phase, students incorporate their sexual orientation into their overall self identity and accept themselves as part of the GL group. Identifying themselves as part of the GL community gives them feelings of security and acceptance.

Use in Higher Education

As discussed by Walters, Simoni and Valentine, it’s crucial for parents to be supportive with a son or daughter’s decision with anything they are going through. There must be a safe environment on campuses for “coming out” lesbian and gay students and for them to be social. Student affairs professional need to have a welcoming place in the academic advisor and career counselor’s offices, and partner’s comfort if have one for student’s wellbeing when they are dealing with change of their sexual identity. Not everyone does feel secure about their identity when they are “coming out” because there are many phases. Reduced homophobia, financial dependency, negative treatment on campus, fear of discrimination, inappropriate treatment by other students, tutors, and so forth must be prevented as much as possible.

Annotated Bibliography

The authors, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, use the results from the modified form of Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS) to study the correlation between the four psychological stages of preencounter, encounter, immersion-emersion, and internalization and self esteem of lesbian and gay men. They find that lesbian and gay men at preencounter stage have low self-esteem. As these people enter the encounter and immersion-emersion stages, they continue to suffer from low self-esteem, though the results were not significant. The group shows a high level of self-esteem in the internalization phase.


Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido, F.M., Patton, L.D. & Renn, K.A. (2010). Student
Development in college: Theory research and practice. (2nd ed., pp. 313-315) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Walters, Katherine L. & Simoni, Jane M. (1993). Lesbian and Gay Male Group Identity
Attitudes and Self-Esteem: Implication for Counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 40(1), 94-99. Retrieved from

Valentine, Gil & Wood, Nicholas & Plummer,Paul. (2009). The experience of lesbian,
gay, bisexual and trans staff and students in higher education (Research Report 2009). Retrieved from Equality Challenge Unit website:


  1. The four phases in this theory are present among students who come to the GBT resource center. They tend to sign up to be mentees in the mentee/mentor program where they can talk to people who are more comfortable in their identities, spend time at the social events and explore their identities, volunteer in the office, thus, deepening their commitment bot to their identities and also to the community and allot of the students identify the community and their identity as central to their lives. I see this as an interplay between the cognitive and psycho-social. As people interact with their environments they have a mutually reinforcing effect. I would like to know the role of social persuasion here and also that of cognitive dissonance. that is, I would like to know what the effect of advocacy has on the person constantly doing the advocating. I would like to know if their commitment deepens due to greater chance for self reflection or if it deepens because one feels cognitive dissonance when they constantly repeat themselves. Does this limit growth in different directions and the movement between identities through life and focus an individual on the expression of one identity?

  2. After reading April Sinclair's Ain't Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, it really helped me to understand parts of Fassinger's Model of Gay & Lesbian Identity Development. I have a better understanding of how an individual's social environment have such a big impact on whether or not someone moves through to accept themselves. It is already so difficult to be questioning one's own identity and a bigger challenge to find identity in a group setting.

  3. LGBT issues in general have always held great interest for me - particularly in the identity development arena. I really enjoyed this presentation/class discussion and reading. That said, one of the most interesting faucets touched upon was the idea that those exploring and/or questioning their sexual orientation as being "different" or "opposed to" the "norm"/heterosexuality" have no particular social constructs or examples to draw on as they are navigating this difficult discovery/transition/acceptance. Hetereosexual individuals have far and away more social "modeling" than the LGBT community and I can see how such a community/campus resource would be an incredible strength and support for individuals experiencing this identity exploration. Knowing that there are other individuals who have experienced the same thing you have is key to a healthy self-identity and developmental progression; particularly as a student.

  4. I think another important piece we should take from this theory, and from Cass' theory on gender, as Student Affairs practitioners is our assumptions and the language we use. By assuming a student is straight or identifies as one gender we are reinforcing stereotypes that may inhibit our students' ability to move along in the process of developing their identity. But, by using more gender and sexual orientation neutral language, we can demonstrate a positive inclusivity.

  5. Fassinger and Cass seemed to have hit on many of the same points. Fassinger broke development into two different aspects of public and private, whereas, Cass had these two aspects of one’s self develop within stages together. I did like how Fassinger’s model was condensed into four phases rather than six stages. Both theories really stressed the importance of a safe place for people to meet others that might be going through similar experiences and to be around supportive people. Unfortunately, some students do not have the support necessary to continue to develop and grow their identity. So it is important to offer that support from yourself and other resources.

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