It’s Official: GLSEN Says Internet Is Both Best and Worst Thing Ever for Queer Teens

Real life sucks. It’s full of bills, debts and people we’d rather avoid. Which is why a lot of us retreat to the internet. But while the internet is full of cat .gifs or pictures of attractive ladies, for some teens the internet is a place where they’re reminded that bullies are just as shitty on the net as they are in the real world. A 2011 survey had already proven that real life sucked for teens, but yesterday the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released a survey showing that queer teens are subjected to three times more online and text-based bullying than their straight counterparts.

GLSEN

Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet, surveyed 5680 13 to 18 year old students –1,960 of which identified as LGBT – between August 2010 and January 2011. While the results aren’t exactly surprising to anyone that’s seen the way we’re treated in the real world, the results are still unsettling.

Back in my day, coming home from school would be enough to separate you from your harassers, but this online generation isn’t as lucky. With smartphones, laptops and tablet computers becoming affordable and accessible to youth, so are the new ways to harass one another. Queer teens tended to spend an average of five hours online each day, 45 minutes more to their straight peers. But all of that online time wasn’t without consequence; almost a third of queer youth had been sexually harassed in the past year and of those 42% bullied online, more than a quarter acknowledged they were singled out for their sexual orientation or gender expression. Due to the prevalence of online bullying, queer teens felt almost as unsafe online (27%) as they did at school (30%) or commuting for school (29%). This unrelenting torment takes its toll, as those subjected to near-constant harassment tended to have lower GPAs, lower self esteem and higher rates of depression than those that were bullied online or offline or completely spared. 

GLSEN Survey

Although cyberbullying is prevalent and intervention methods are murky, the survey shows that internet access can also be a saviour. Queer kids need role models and allies to validate their existence, but not everyone is out enough or lucky enough to access them, so more queer kids are forging their own support systems online. It’s easier to see high school’s endpoint with outreach programs like It Gets Better and the Trevor Project, but sometimes you just need friends to get you through your day. Almost two-thirds connected to other queer peers in the past year and more than half that lacked real-world resources found LGBT friends online. GLSEN looked at how comfortable queers were in their own skins and found that 29% could be more out online than they could in real life. Because when you find your own niche of humans in cyberspace, sometimes you can de-stress enough be  honest with yourself.

But if this survey shows anything, it’s that LGBT youth are taking their futures into their own hands and not simply standing at the sidelines as victims. If knowledge is power, these millenials will have more firepower than any previous generation. In addition to the 62% of queer participants researching their sexuality, queer youth were four times as likely to seek info on AIDS/HIV and other STIs than their straight peers. And 95% of trans* youth took to the internet to seek health and medical information compared to 77-80% of their cis peers!

LGBT youth aren’t only interested in helping themselves, as the survey showed that they were much more likely than their straight peers to involve themselves in online causes. Given that they’re growing up in the midst of a social justice movement with a megaphone at their fingertips, it’s heartening to hear that 90% of those surveyed are picking up their smartphones for good. Of the queer youth surveyed, 77% had participated in online communities, 76% had spread the word about theses issues, 68% blogged about the causes they were seeing and 51% had invited people to join in. Because while some of us grew up hearing about the atrocities befalling us, this plugged in generation can make a difference.

The lesson to take away from this survey is that queer students need allies to cope with the day-to-day. More intervention is so students can still freely access LGBT resources they need without fearing harassment. Even though bullying takes place out of school hours, school officials need to take a stand along with parents, so bullies realize there are real life consequences for their actions. For youth in rural areas where they aren’t able to access an in person community, the minimum schools can do is to provide students with internet access so they can find the resources and community they need. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director outlines the problems and where they hope to go.

The importance of the Internet for LGBT youth and their peers overall also poses a challenge to educators, who must help students learn how to seek out and identify reliable sources of information and safe sources of support amidst the deluge of potential connections online. It is also a challenge for youth advocates and LGBT community organizations, who must continue to increase the availability of in-person support while developing and enhancing online spaces and resources for these youth.

As we look to the future, it is clear that the Internet and digital devices will continue to transform the way youth connect and communicate, and the way we educate. We can only hope that someday LGBT youth will be unlikely to remember a time when their experiences online were anything other than positive.

Avatar of Kristen

Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

13 Comments

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    Seeing this post on my Tumblr feed seemed appropriate after today receiving anonymous (and other) messages about my sexual orientation after clarifying that I’m gay, rather than bi which I’d previously identified with. Internet’s great and awful at the same time. It’s led me to Autostraddle! And queer-friendly sex ed websites! (Which, when you go to a private religious boarding school, you don’t get) But it’s also enabled a lot of crap for me (and others), and when this article comes short on the heels of a post about gay -tourists- not even being allowed in Russia, the net doesn’t really allow for any ‘ignorance is bliss’ moments.

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    Being a young lesbian myself, I must say that I’m extremely thankful that I never faced much adversity in my day to day life. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends and schoolmates that were as supportive as they had been, especially since I came out in my last year of middle school and was therefore the only one who identified as part of the community. It wasn’t really until this year (my final year of high school) that I began facing harassment from a fellow classmate and teammate. The ironic part of it all was that this was also the year I attended a program which allowed me to finish my last year in college instead of high school. She began posting slander about me on the internet, and by the time I found out about it there was nothing I could do. The high school I went to, while very supportive, was notorious for not dealing with problems the way they should be dealt with. Had I gone to someone within the administration about it in the attempt to get some sort of justice, I would have been blown off and told that there was nothing they could do because it did not happen on school grounds.

    While I am ecstatic that this issue is getting more of the attention that it needs to get, it also reminds me that it’s only the beginning and a lot more work needs to be done.

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    As a little baby dyke queer teen I just want to say that autostraddle is the best website. It’s where I’ve found the best information on how to have safe lesbian sex (my high school health class didn’t give any information about gay sex except “you need to use a condom to prevent AIDS”. How relevent to me.) also it’s given me courage to be comfortable with who am, reading articles about and writen by lovely queer ladies has really helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. After deleting my facebook I no longer face any Internet stupidity because I spend all my time on autostraddle, tegan and sara’s Twitter page or on YouTube watching the latest video on wordswithgirls channel.

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      I agree with this. Autostraddle along with tumblr and other sites have made it so that words like lesbian and gay, but especially lesbian no longer feel like painful slurs. When people use them with offensive intent I no longer see how it is even inherently insulting. Thank you for affirming my existence.

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          Hooray! I absolutely agree, there’s something about seeing a word over and over in an affirming context (especially when people are using it to identify themselves, and clearly feeling good about it) that makes it sting so much less. And the internet is great for that. I hated a lot of words when I first came out. Now it feels more like I’m exploring a fascinating jungle of identifiers.

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      Seriously, “sex ed” should be renamed “procreation ed” because it is much more about that than it is about sex. There’s a LOT of stuff that same-sex couples do in bed that cis straight people do too and that isn’t talked about ever in sex ed.

      I’m bi, and it wasn’t until I started looking into safe sex for same-sex partners on the internet that I learned about dental dams and gloves and why they are important and which diseases and bad stuff can be transmitted or caused by whom and to whom in those situations. This stuff isn’t just relevant to lesbians but to ANYONE who has a pussy or a partner who has one, and that’s a boatload of people. Were I only interested in cis boys I’d still be woefully ignorant about all that.
      To a lesser extent it applies the other way too – the “use a condom for buttsex/fellatio” line is much more insisted upon when talking to gay boys, but straight couples are just as likely to do those things and catch AIDS and other STIs from them.

      TL;DR “sex ed” is a dangerous joke and it’s way past time for a revolution.

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      okay so can i just say for all of the teen/youngish autostraddle readers we have a google+ community thing and it’s super nice.

      that sounded like a very bland advert, but i am bad at describing things i like.
      so.
      check it out. the link is somewhere on the ‘teen autostraddlers’ group.

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    “In addition to the 62% of queer participants researching their sexuality, queer youth were four times as likely to seek info on AIDS/HIV and other STIs than their straight peers. And 95% of trans* youth took to the internet to seek health and medical information compared to 77-80% of their cis peers!” — I’m torn between feelings of “yay queers are so cool for taking control of their sexual health and overall health” and of “ugh stupid schools should educate students about ALL sexual orientations so that these lovely queers don’t even NEED to scour the internet for such information.” Bkaljdlagkj feelings.

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    *broken record time*

    Once again, saying ‘LGBT’ or using Queer as a stand-in for that is putting together groups of people who might have highly disparate experiences. I think it’s fair to say that prior to the proliferation of the Internet, trans youth (or adults) had zero outlet for ANY information about their health and medical issues with the possible exception of some trans women who did sex work and got illicit hormones and silicone injections or some fairly wealthy people who went to private clinics. Whatever shortcoming the Internet has in terms of facilitating bulling and transmitting transphobia faster than it was before, even those negatives can’t possibly compare to access to information and finding any kind of community. While there are certainly still people who don’t have Internet access, few young trans people can really conceive of how cut off and completely isolated it was prior to the Internet and how next to impossible it was to find any information about medical transition much less legal issues. That doesn’t mean getting bullied over the Internet is a walk in the park, but compared to complete isolation and non-personhood, it’s more a nasty by-product than a 50/50 proposition.

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    When I was first coming out, the Internet was only just becoming A Thing. There was no Facebook. There wasn’t even a MySpace. I think this made me uniquely lucky because I could turn to the Internet for a community I was sorely lacking but that didn’t include the jerks I encountered IRL.

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    God, if I didn’t have the Internet, I would be so confused about my sexuality. I’d also be sort of alienated because I wouldn’t be able to connect with anyone about things like that. I mean, I still don’t really know what’s going on with pretty much every type of attraction besides sexual attraction (I identify as asexual), and sometimes I still feel a little disconnected around my overwhelmingly straight peers, but it would be so much worse without online communities. Accidentally stumbling onto the Wikipedia page for asexuality during one of my frequent wikiwalks when I was in eighth grade was one of the luckiest things I’ve ever done. And before I really found people I could talk to, or websites with a lot of information, I basically reread that Wikipedia article and the explanatory articles on AVEN that I found through Wikipedia like every night.

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