Publication Date

Spring 3-31-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Laura Bertonazzi

Second Advisor

Audrey Rabas


The heteronormative ordering of schools poses challenges for gender and/or sexual minorities (GSM). GSM leaders in schools are challenged by decisions about whether to come out of the closet and the implications that these decisions can have for the leadership they enact and their career trajectories. Meanwhile, GSM students face difficulties including identity-based victimization and diminished sense of belonging in school. The experiences of attending high school are further complicated for students who attend an international school outside their country of origin. This qualitative investigation explored how GSM former students at international schools experienced a sense of belonging at school and understood any changes in their sense of belonging at school after interacting with a visible GSM leader in their school. Guided by queer theory and employing interpretive phenomenological analysis, this study addressed both the diminished sense of belonging experienced by GSM students in schools and the gaps in literature surrounding GSM students, GSM leaders, and international schools. Analysis of semi-structured interviews with six GSM former students at international schools yielded three findings. Sense of belonging in school is connected to both (1) identity-related and (2) contextual factors. Further, (3) GSM leaders can serve as a support structure for GSM students in certain cases. The findings of the current research suggest that changes need to be made both in the ways that international schools are structured and how students with marginalized identities are supported.


Ed.D. Dissertation



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