Communication Studies, Department of


First Advisor

Dawn O. Braithwaite

Second Advisor

Jordan Soliz

Date of this Version

Spring 4-2023


Hackenburg, L. (2023). “Evolving homes, not revolving doors”: Examining lesbian, gay, and bisexual foster parents’ discursive construction and negotiation of identity layers and identity gaps. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln]. Digital Commons at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under Supervision of Professors Dawn O. Braithwaite and Jordan Soliz. Lincoln, Nebraska: April 2023

Copyright © 2023 Lucas Hackenburg


The United States foster care system serves more than half a million children each year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHH], 2023). The purpose of this study was to examine how LGB foster parents discursively construct and navigate their identities in the fostering context. The researcher undertook in-depth interviews with 18 LGB people who were currently fostering or had previously fostered at least one child from the foster care system. The researcher analyzed the interview data using Braun and Clarke’s reflexive thematic analysis (2019).

Consistent with the Communication Theory of Identity (Hecht, 1993; 2015; Hecht & Phillips, 2022), the researcher identified ten manifestations of identity for LGB foster parents across the four identity layers. The manifestation of identity layers indicated that LGB foster parents perceive their LGB identity to be salient in the foster care context, which can be perceived both negatively and positively, and the influence of multiple subsystems within the foster family.

Further, participants described five sources of identity gaps (Jung & Hecht, 2004). Identity gaps were related to sexual orientation (communal-communal and communal-personal-relational) and being a foster parent (intralayer relational, personal-relational, enacted-relational, relational-communal, and person-communal). Participants described six discursive practices of identity work (labeling, ritualizing, integrating biological and foster families, redefining fostering expectations, seeking supportive agencies, and connecting to community) (Galvin, 2006, Miller-Ott, 2017). The identity gaps and discursive practices provide insight into the dialectical identity negotiation of LGB foster parents.

The researcher discusses implications based on these findings. Theoretical implications include expanding the foster care square (Nelson, 2017) and examining the interdependence of identity gaps within foster families (Merrill & Afifi, 2017). Practical implications include LGB foster parents as a resource for LGBT+ foster children and LGBT+ competency training for social workers and foster care agencies. Future researchers should consider the influence of sexual orientation from multiple perspectives and the intersection of multiple identities in the fostering process.

Advisors: Dawn O. Braithwaite & Jordan Soliz