At Childnet we work with young people across the UK in various ways, from focus groups and pilot schools to our Youth Advisory Boards, Digital Champions and Digital Leaders. In this blog we look at some of the things young people told us following LGBT History Month, including the impact of the internet on LGBT youth and the key things they want parents and carers to know about their lives online. See what they had to say.
What are LGBT youths’ experiences online?
‘I think that in general, the online world is a mostly positive place for LGBT young people and allows them to feel safer and more open than they might do offline. It also helps provide education to allies and LGBT youth alike, educating them on the issues we face and ways we can effectively bring about change, as well as education on lesser-known identities, giving those a voice who may not always have been given one.
Many schools and communities in real life have very few open conversations about LGBT topics, with many schools doing the bare minimum to support young queer people. This makes the online world a great place to have more open conversations and helps young people figure out who they are without having to feel afraid.’
‘A lot of the time, we’re given very limited education of LGBT identities, so having the internet is often a great resource for young queer people; not only can we find resources to help educate us, but it also introduces young people to queer culture, which is so important so that we have a community and support network. It also has lots of representation of intersectional identities, so all different kinds of young, queer people can find someone like them!’
How can the internet be used as a source for good for LGBT youth?
‘The internet is a great tool for education, where you can learn about all sorts of different genders and sexualities and expand your understanding of the queer community. This means that you can learn to be a better ally for other identities, not just your own. Personally, I was one of only three queer people in my life when I came out, but the internet allowed me to find people just like me who were leading happy and fulfilling lives, and it allowed me to be much more comfortable with my sexuality.
‘The Internet can be a very useful and positive source for LGBT youth, allowing them a place for their voices to be amplified and feel heard when they may not get this in real life. It also allows a platform for more marginalised and intersectional communities to feel seen, giving us a voice and a safe space to be who we are with pride. Many schools aren’t actively striving for change and ensuring that queer youths’ voices are heard in their communities, however with open conversations becoming more prevalent online, the online space is a wonderful source of good for young LGBT people and allies alike to learn and feel seen.’
What impact does the internet have on LGBT youth?
‘Personally, I find that the internet has had a huge impact in helping me feel more comfortable and accepting of who I am. It allows you to embrace a culture that shows you that who we are isn’t wrong or bad, there are other people like us out there who have found happiness and, even if your offline space isn’t as accepting, the internet provides you with a space where you can be who you are and embrace that without fear of it impacting your real life.’
‘Seeing someone post something is comforting. Discovering your sexuality is a scary journey. It is great to discover you are not alone. The community is not harsh or mean. Stories that should be heard are not, you have to dig around for it. That's where social media like Instagram comes into it, small stories can be heard.‘
‘Whilst there are undoubtedly some downfalls to the online space, it also allows you to find people with similar identities to you, allowing you to create friends and a nurturing life.’
What are your top tips parents or educators?
‘My top tip for parents and educators would be that it’s so important to be open to listen to queer voices and narratives, as we are the people who will be impacted by these discussions - never be afraid to make mistakes and get things wrong, how else would we learn?! It’s also so vital that your space both on and offline is safe and inclusive, with different representation of intersectional role models. This means that the queer people in your environment will immediately feel much safer and more comfortable around you.’
‘My top tip for parents and educators is to be willing to listen and learn. By listening to queer voices and educating yourself on LGBT issues, you’ll develop a more open mindset and in return be able to have more open and honest conversations with the children in your care. I also think parents and educators should always be open to change, as change is coming and improving our communities for the better, and, in order to support the people we care for, we must all be willing to listen and learn in order to bring about the change we so desperately need.’
What questions do you wish your parents and carers would ask about your lives online?
‘I think parents and carers need to understand the importance of the internet in our lives and, especially amongst young LGBT people, the impact it has on our ability to feel more comfortable with who we are. Parents should definitely consider asking their children if they feel like their voices are being heard and also remember that the experiences and concerns of different generations are very different online, and no young person’s online experience should be dismissed just because of who they are, both inside and out.’
‘• Are we okay?
• What things have we seen or if there’s anything we want to talk about
• Maybe if they themselves have seen a post or a news article and they ask us questions on it
• What things we enjoy like a post that may have made us laugh or even motivated us’
What could the internet industry do to improve the experiences of young LGBT people online?
‘Something that the internet industry could do to ensure the safety of young queer people online is being actively willing to change things. By listening to the queer voices on their platforms and being able to make changes when necessary, the internet would become much safer for LGBT people. This would also be helped by having queer policy-makers, who understand first-hand the impact of the internet on young people. Similarly, whilst free speech is absolutely vital to our society, they need to be stricter on when “free speech” has crossed a line and become hate speech, as this would shield people from the worst homophobia and transphobia. Queer people should be acknowledged all year round - not just in LGBT History Month and Pride Month.’
‘I believe that if internet industries truly do want to support and improve LGBT youths’ experiences online, then they must stand up and be the ones to incite the change. We need more active allyship from platforms online and it shouldn’t just be left to marginalised communities, especially the young people within those, to fight back against the hate speech and deal with any problems they face online that should never be there from the start.’
Who inspires you online?
‘Personally, when I think of queer role models, two people come to mind immediately! Firstly, Munroe Bergdorf. Munroe is a model and activist, who is a black, queer trans woman who refuses to be quiet. Time and time again she has overcome adversity and comes back stronger than before, which I really admire and inspires me all the time.
Secondly, I’ve recently fallen in love with Bimini Bon Boulash, who is starring in this year’s season of Drag Race UK! They bravely spoke about their non-binary identity on national television, and also released a statement about non-binary, which I found super educational and generally a great talking point. Overall, they advocate for nothing but positivity and self-love, and I think that’s a vital message for queer young people.’
‘The person who inspires me online is Dan Howell. Back in 2019, he posted a 45 minute coming out video titled ‘Basically I’m Gay’ that not only helped me feel more comfortable within myself and my identity, but also countless other young LGBT people feel this way too. Of course not everyone is expected to post a 45 minute video when coming out, however Dan’s open and honest approach helped so many people be more accepting of themselves and others. He is also an advocate for LGBT+ charities and mental health campaigns, making him, what I believe, to be an inspiration and role model for queer youth in their online and offline worlds.’
‘Human Rights activists promoting a discriminatory free message on their platform.’