Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Shari Veil

Second Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Scarduzio


This dissertation presents a new cycle model of media usage by LGBTQ+ community members in the United States that reveals a purpose previously unnamed and undefined. While parasocial contact, parasocial interaction, and parasocial relationships have been present in the academic literature for quite some time (as early as 1956 when Horton and Wohl first wrote of the phenomenon), use of media to parasocially affirm one’s LGBTQ+ status is unique to this study. This study used qualitative methods to examine a specific mass media audience, LGBTQ+ individuals, and asked them, in one-on-one interviews, how they utilize mass media to assist with their sexual and gender identity development. Participants in this study spoke of a moment of realization of the existence of LGBTQ+ identities and the stigma associated with those identities prior to their recognition or realization of their own sexual and gender identities. Additionally, they reported that no connection was made between this realization and their own sexual and gender identity at the time of this discovery. Participants then reported a variety of time frames passed before their own realizations (i.e., from as little as a few weeks up to 10 years). Next, participants spoke of their own realizations. At this point, most participants spoke of the stigma and fears associated with LGBTQ+ sexual and gender identities. Decisions were made by all to keep their realizations private. This self-imposed lack of interpersonal communication (created under real or imagined rejection scenarios) revealed a need to seek affirmation in more impersonal settings.

Arguably, the most important finding is that: instead of parasocial interactions or parasocial relationships participants reported parasocial affirmations. Parasocial affirmations are defined by this dissertation as usage experiences of media characters/personalities that allow for visualization of self-acceptance. But viewing one media depiction or one interpersonal interaction is not enough to affirm one’s sexual and/or gender identity. These affirming associations in turn create a need for additional experiences and the process starts again. The affirmations include information about successful negotiation of sexual and/or gender identity and therefore, affirming their own sexual and gender identity. This process runs from as little as a few days to many years until the individual is secure enough to engage interpersonally with others about their sexual and gender identity. Theoretical implications of this dissertation include an extension of the parasocial interaction/relationship theory with the addition of parasocial affirmations. Practical implications of this dissertation describe how LGBTQ+ community members, allies, social workers, school counselors etc., could use these findings to enhance coping skills of LGBTQ+ community members. Additionally, mass media producers could use these findings to guide their creation of LGBTQ+ inclusive and supportive products.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)