We at vpnMentor conducted a survey in which we askedÂ 695 LGBTQ+ people worldwide about their experiences onlineÂ as they relate to their sexual orientation and gender identity. The results â referenced throughout this article â illuminated the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Here are some of ourÂ key findings:+
- 73%Â of all respondents in all categories of gender identity and sexual orientation have beenÂ personally attacked or harassed online.
- 50%Â of all respondents in all categories of gender identity and sexual orientation have sufferedÂ sexual harassment online.
- When it comes to sexual orientation,Â asexual people feel the least safe online, and gay men the safest.
- When it comes to gender identity,Â transgender women feel the least safe online, and cisgender men the safest.
- Transgender women are the most likely to be outed against their willÂ online, while cisgender men are least likely.
+For complete results, see theÂ appendix.
As experts in the field of cybersecurity, it is our mission toÂ provide practical strategies for coping with adversity, bigotry, and abuse on the web, which is why we created this guide.
Whether you are part of the LGBTQ+ community or are an ally, we hope you find this guide helpful.
Finding Community OnlineÂ
Navigating a heterosexual and cisgender society can be difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Alienated from their family, condemned by their community, and isolated from their friends,Â many LGBTQ+ people turn to the internet for solidarity.
With just the click of a button, they can escape their physical surroundings and immediately be transported to a place filled with like-minded, accepting people. There, they can seek guidance about coming out, ask questions about queer specific topics, and better understand their sexualities and gender identities.
Simply put,Â the internet facilities a sense of communityÂ among LGBTQ+ people, regardless of their physical proximity to one another.
âThe internet and social media are essential to connecting individuals to information and people of the LGBT+ community,â states Mara,* whoâs bisexual/pansexual.**Â â[It provides] spaces for them to find acceptance, community, and support. It is extremely important to keep these connections alive.â
Since the suicide rate for LGBTQ+ youth is substantially higher than that of their heterosexual and cisgender peers, the internet can literally become life-saving.
âThere are so many wonderful support groups that help so much, they seriouslyÂ saved my life and made my search for my identity so much easier,â recounts Mariela, a lesbian.
â[The internet is] definitely a great information sharer for our sometimes disjointed community, especially in rural areas,â says Blair, whoâs genderqueer/non-binary.***Â âLots of my trans identity was discerned through language I accessed onlineÂ as well as looking at other trans narratives online.â
The Dark Side of the Web
However,Â the internet can also be an intimidating and dangerous place. Just read the comments on any viral social media post and youâll see a slew of insults and misdirected aggression.
Considering the fact that a large portion of theseÂ hateful comments include homophobic and sometimes even biphobic slurs, the internet is especially threatening to the LGBTQ+ community.
âI feel like there is a significant amount of intolerance from within the LGBTQ communityâ explained Gill, a genderqueer lesbian. âIâve honestly been attacked more from within the community than outside of it.â
Given this ugly reality, we believeÂ it is essential that all LGBTQ+ people know how to defend and protect themselves online. Therefore, we created this guide to minimize your personal exposure to online bullying and harassment. Â
Itâs important for us to note that some of the advice here is aimed at people who do not feel safe enough to come out, or who prefer not to reveal certain aspects of their identity if they feel threatened. It is by no means an encouragement to stay closeted.
We also want to acknowledge the downsides of playing it safe. According to our survey, while self-identified gay people responded that they felt safest online, some believe itâs because theyâre overly cautious about their internet activity.
âI havenât experienced anything negative online,â explains Harris, whoâs genderqueer and gay. â[But itâs] because Iâve worked very hard to not put myself in situations where I might be vulnerable to attack.Â This sort of extra mental effort keeps me safe online, but it does come at a price.â
It is our hope that one day none of this will be relevant, and all people, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, will feel free to express themselves online in any way they see fit, without fear.
Cyberbullying is a Near Universal ExperienceÂ
According to our study,Â 73% of LGBTQ+ people have reported being personally attacked or harassed online. These incidents frequently revolve around attempts to alter or criticize a personâs sexual or gender identity.
Shauna, a lesbian respondent recalls, âsome lady commented on a post I made on social media that my being gay was a phase and that if I found Jesus, I would be converted just like her.â
âBack before Facebook filtered messages from people you arenât friends with, I would often receive messages calling me a dyke or similarly abusing me,â adds Dylan, a non-binary respondent.
And the abuse isnât always just verbal. Sometimes, it can even lead to physical violence. According to ZsĂłfia, a genderqueer/non-binary lesbian living in Hungary, âIn 2012, my whole Facebook profile was published (with several other [members of the] Hungarian LGBTQ+ community) on a far-right groupâs website. The list was called âfagot-listâ (âkĂ¶csĂ¶g listaâ in Hungarian).â
In addition to these assaults by bigots and religious and political extremists, we found thatÂ most of the online harassment respondents experienced was sexual in nature.
âIâve gotten dick pics when looking for a roommate or when posting my phone number after my cat went missing. Iâve also been told by a few guysâ [that] bisexuality is a phase and I need a good dick to cure me,â explains a Jamie, whoâs non-binary and bisexual.
Jamieâs sentiment was echoed throughout the survey, withÂ dozens of people reporting that they have received unsolicited pornographic photosÂ or vulgar, sexually explicit messages.
âI posted a photo saying I wish I could just keep my mouth shut, and multiple people offered their dick to keep it full,â recounts Tamika, a genderqueer lesbian.
âI have had death threats against myself and my family,â discloses Nova, an asexual transgender woman. âBullying from outside and inside the community.Â [Iâve] been creeped out so much that I have left social media.â
Asexual people described feeling threatened by their non-asexual counterparts who refuse to accept asexuality as a valid orientation. Some of these men, women and non-binary or genderqueer people would accuse asexuals of having a latent or ânot yet developedâ sexual interest.
âPeople think they can cure my asexuality by sending me their nudes or just repeatedly telling me everyone has a sex drive you just need to wait for yours,â says Elijah, whoâs genderqueer and asexual.
Despite reporting frequently receiving sexually inappropriate content or comments,Â many respondents downplayed their harassmentÂ and even excused this behavior as âjust the usual.â
But you donât have to accept âjust the usual.â There are ways to filter out the abuse.
Cyberbullying on Social MediaÂ
Today social media is our main form of communication on the internet, and for LGBTQ+ people â especially those who are not supported by their families or friends â social media may be the only place they can find a loving, supportive community.
Unfortunately, social media is also rife with bullying. Studies have even shown that, due to the fact that not having to face their victim in person emboldens many abusers,Â bullying is much more widespread online than in real life.
Research has also shown that cyberbullying causes depression, and many victims turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, and self-injury.
While there is no way for individuals to stop the harassers from bullying in the first place, there are ways to shield yourself from them, making the repercussions of cyberbullying less severe.
Sometimes itâs as simple asÂ blocking and reporting abusive users, so you donât have to interact with them at all.
If problems persist,Â you also have the option of reporting the abuse to the platformÂ â though unfortunately, site administrators donât always take the necessary action to shut bigots down.
Other Ways to Silence HatersÂ
When blocking someone online is not an option, there are other steps you can take to limit your exposure to them. Any of the following tactics can help you take control online:
- Manually remove comments on your posts.Â
Most sites allow you delete specific comments, so you can remove the offensive responses quickly.
- Report the incident to the platform.Â
If you donât want it to be obvious that it was you who took action, reporting allows you to anonymously flag the issue, so the company can take action.
- Create private lists and groups.
Most social networks have a feature to make messages, posts or groups private. By doing this, you can choose to include people you trust and keep potentially sensitive conversations away from harassers.
Cyberbullying on Online ForumsÂ
Online forums are a fantastic way to interact with your community, but they can often be a catalyst for arguments and discussions that can turn nasty. Itâs not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people to be unfairly targeted on public boards, just because of how they identify.Â
LGBTQ folks should never be forced to mask their identity, but unfortunately, the world can be a very ugly place, andÂ some people may choose to keep certain information private in order to keep themselves safe. Â
The following are all details that you should consider avoiding when talking to people you donât know.
- Address and Contact Information:Â Â Cyberbullying is one thing, but having an aggressor know where you live â or how to contact you â can put you in physical danger. Never share these details with anyone online, unless you know them personally and itâs via an encrypted chat. Even general information, such as your town or city, can be used to locate you, so keeping it to yourself is the safest option.
Real Names:Â Â People can quickly connect the dots to work out who you and your friends are, so some choose to use pseudonyms for themselves and people to whom they refer in their posts. This simple habit is easy to adopt and will afford you considerable privacy, while still allowing you to share your experiences and opinions.Â Â
Links to Social Media:Â Â If youâre commenting in forums, consider not linking your social media account, or at least keeping your social media settings private. While being verbally attacked on a thread is one thing, your social media account usually has a lot more personal information about you that could escalate harassment to a different level.
Closeted People Risk Being Blackmailed
Although more and more people are comfortable coming out of the closet, there are still many who unfortunately do not feel safe enough to do so. AndÂ there are cyber criminals out there who are ready to take advantage of that and are actively looking for victims to blackmail and extort. Therefore, it is important to know how to keep certain information private if you so choose.
Most online platforms have started to take privacy seriously and offer settings to hide parts of, or all, profile information from some users.
Controlling Your Identity During and After TransitionÂ
For many transgender people, the period of transition can be an extremely vulnerable time. For those who prefer to keep some or all of their transition private, the possibility of being outed is one of the biggest threats to their online safety. In fact,Â 26% of transgender women and 21% of transgender men report having been outed against their will.Â
Some of the respondents to our survey shared stories about how their friends and classmates maliciously revealed their gender identity on social media platforms â or even blackmailed them.
According to Dante, a bisexual/pansexual trans man, âThe person [blackmailing me] said they will share my personal information (gender identity and sexual orientation) if I [didnât] do some certain things.â
In order to avoid being outed, which could potentially create a hostile family dynamic, cost them their job, or instigate a barrage of hateful messages, many choose to live in secrecy.
As Jolene, a transgender lesbian woman recalls, âI live stealth. I hide my sexual orientation and gender identity online.â
Because most people transition as adults, they very likely have an online presence that presents them with the gender they were assigned at birth. As a result,Â those who fear being blackmailed or involuntarily outed will often choose to remove their previous identity from the web.
For instance, Bianca, a trans blogger, created an online community where she was able to help others in the same situation as her. However, it eventually led to an inability to secure employment and feed her child. According to her, âThen came reality. The world does not like trans â does not understand the cause or the effect.â Because of this, she made the decision to remove traces of her trans identity from her online presence.
Similarly, Yahel, whoâs a trans man, first came out in an online forum he worked for, and was immediately met with harassment: âThey started opening topics about meÂ saying Iâm a girl and that I have a mental illness; they used âsheâ pronouns.â
Fortunately, because he was a staff member, he could block the offending users.
However, he also noted the limits to his abilities, observing, âwhen I left my position as a staff member in order to focus on my grades at school, the harassment continued, and I couldnât do anything about it.Â When I reported it, no one did anything about it.â
If you are in a similar situation, and are afraid of the consequences of exposing your assigned gender or transition, you have the option of modifying your online persona. Â
How to Reinvent Your Online Identity
- Delete your social media accounts and create new ones that reflect your true gender. Start posting more photos, so you have memories to pad it out with!
- Contact websites that present you with your assigned gender, and ask them to remove or update their information on you â you can find out whatâs on the web by Googling yourself.
If you donât want to take these steps because youâll lose your online following or contact list, you could just update your current accounts.
- If you changed your name, update it on every account.
- Delete or untag old photos from your social media accounts.
- Contact websites, friends, and followers to delete or untag any images that you canât untag yourself. Â Â
- Create new photos, videos, and posts that reflect your true self.
- Itâs also good to know thatÂ some social media platforms, like Facebook,Â have the option to choose a custom gender.
Fortunately,Â with greater trans visibility, more and more people are open about and proud of their journey. Alex is a trans woman, who found it was easy to come out online. According to her, âChanging my identity online was very simple for me mainly because I already surrounded myself with supportive people. So, like, when I did change everything, everyone was already on board.â
Although she did experience some hate â particularly on dating sites â by being open and finding support among her friends, she found it easier to filter out the noise. Furthermore,Â she chose the keep posted photos that presented her with the gender she was assigned at birth, and even said that it seemed to help her parents adjust to the idea of her transition.
The decision about how open to be online is deeply personal, and no one should be pressured to reveal more or less than they feel comfortable with. You should decide whatâs best for you.
Dating While QueerÂ
Online dating is a huge part of modern relationships. Apps, dating websites, and social media all provide a platform for folks of any gender or orientation to meet, hook up, or fall in love. And they can be especiallyÂ helpful for sexual minorities looking to find partners in a largely cis-hetero world. Â
Many of the people we interviewed who are in happy, long-term relationships met their partners on the web.Â
Ronnie found the love of her life online. âOnce I decided to just talk to someone who I had judged was way out of my league. After a couple of weeks she asked me on a date [âŠ] now 6 months later, Iâm so unbelievably in love.â
Unfortunately, however, online dating sites can be hives for sexual harassment.
In the survey we conducted,Â more than 50% of respondents who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, asexual, or bisexual/pansexual suffered sexual harassment online.
Similar studies revealed that sexual harassment affects a third of LGBTQ youth â four times as many as cis-hetero youth.
Thatâs why itâs so important to protect yourself online. Dating should be fun. In order for it to stay that way, check out the tips below.
Safety Tips for Online DatingÂ
Meeting someone you first connected to online could potentially be risky. Even if they appear legitimate,Â thereâs no way to guarantee the authenticity of their identity, and â even if they are the person they say there are â you donât know how they might act or behave in a face-to-face encounter.
While this shouldnât stop you from meeting new people, itâs important to maintain a strategy to staysafe, should the situation take an unwanted turn.
- Donât meet at homeÂ because you donât want strangers to know where you live until youâve vetted them. It may seem inconvenient, but it will make you much less vulnerable.
- Tell a friendÂ all the details of the arrangements, including who youâre meeting, where youâre meeting, and when you should be back.
- âAsk For AngelaâÂ or use a similar scheme. Across the world, codes exist that allow you to discreetly ask for help at bars or restaurants should you feel unsafe during a date. Research the options used in your locale beforehand.
- Use police appsÂ such as SafeTrek (see below), which allow you to notify the police of your location and alert them to danger, without having to make a call. By pressing a single button, you can dispatch authorities without your date knowing.
- Do your researchÂ before you meet. Most people have an extensive social media presence that you can use to validate their identity. If they donât, then you know to be extra cautious during your date â or you might decide to skip the meeting altogether.
Safe Dating AppsÂ
As more and more people rely on their smartphones,Â dating apps have largely taken the place of traditional dating websites. Some of these attract users who are looking to just hook up (and if thatâs what you want, great!), while others are geared more towards those looking for long term relationships. Â
In either case,Â users are vulnerable to the same dangers, including sexual harassment or assault.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of apps designed to make your dating experience safer. These includeÂ online dating platforms with built-in security measures, as well as intuitive programs that can track your safety while youâre out.
- Taimi:Â Cited as the biggest and safest dating app for men seeking men, Taimi lets users âmake friends, find the perfect guy, or form meaningful relationships.â It uses secure login features, such as fingerprints and two-factor authentication, and has an AI bot to verify accounts and detect fraudulent users.
- LGBTQutie:Â This simple app promotes cultivating meaningful relationships and friendships, rather than impersonal hookups. Itâs aimed at inclusivity, supporting asexual, non-binary, pansexual, and intersex users, alongside other LGBTQ members.
- Scissr:Â Catering specifically to lesbians, Scissr promises to be a safe space for women. It prioritizes finding fake profiles by weeding out and deleting them before they can cause problems. Alongside its dating service, it also offers users a community where they can share and discuss different topics with likeminded people.
- Chappy:Â Chappy aims to change the stigma around gay-dating apps. They require each user to verify themselves via Facebook and they auto-delete any pictures that do not include a face. They also require users to each select one another before any messaging can happen, which significantly reduces the chance of harassment. Furthermore, theyâll alert you if anyone tries to screenshot your profile or photos.
With the rise of dating apps, sexting has become a common phenomenon. As a result, Â many have nude pictures stored on their phones.
Whether you take these pictures for yourself or for others, you canât ignore the possibility thatÂ if they fall into the wrong hands, the result could be embarrassing â or in some cases â have devastating effects on your personal or professional life.
But swapping cheeky photos can be a fun and fulfilling part of your romantic life, and we want you to have fun. Just make sure you take precautions.
Apps to Secretly Store Your PhotosÂ
There are certain apps that you can use to increase security and store your intimate photos in a locked part of your phone. The following all provide this feature:Â
- KeepSafe:Â KeepSafe provides an easy way to protect your pictures. Just transfer your intimate photos into the app, and it will lock them with a password.
- Gallery Lock Lite:Â This app is a locked photo vault. It also features a stealth mode, which hides the app icon altogether â you can then only access it through a specific sequence of key commands.
- Best Secret Folder:Â This privacy app allows you to hide the app (and your photos) entirely, as it appears on your phone as a âUtilities Folder,â which diverts any suspicion as to what it contains.
- KYMS:Â KYMS provides the standard locked album features but takes it a step further by appearing as a calculator on your phoneâs menu. As long as no one grabs your phone to do some math, your secret photos will remain hidden.
- Vaulty:Â As well as providing your photos protection, Vaulty also comes with a plethora of editing features. Plus, if you lose your phone, you can restore your pictures from another device.Â Â
Have Your Photos Self-DestructÂ
Often no real need exists to store your nude photos on your phone at all. Once youâve sent them to the desired recipient, you may not have a use for them. Many apps exist that allow you to take and send pictures, but will automatically delete them from both phones after a certain amount of time. These platforms allow genuinely stealthy sexting:
However, be aware that there are ways to get around this â meaning that the recipient of your photos could take a screenshot or save them in some other way. SoÂ never sext with someone you donât trust.
How to Not Get HackedÂ
Unfortunately, itâs not just physical theft that could expose your private photos and information. Hackers are becoming incredibly sophisticated and can find your intimate information without you even knowing it.
The best way to protect yourself from hackers is to implement several layers of online protection.
- Install antivirus softwareÂ that will alert you if you accidentally download spyware onto your phone. Spyware intercepts your files, passwords, and online activity, and transfers them back to the hacker.
- Only download apps from trusted users. Some unofficial apps are trojan horses for malware. If an infected program enters your phone, it can easily grant a third party access to your messages and photos.
- Regularly update your apps, since updates usually include patches and fixes for security flaws.
- Use two-factor authentication (2FA)Â on all your accounts to make it more difficult for cybercriminals to access your files via brute-force attacks. This setting requires an additional code from a third-party platform, like your SMS or email, so (unless someone has managed to hack into several of your accounts) they wonât be able to gain entry.
- Always use a VPNÂ when using unsecured public WiFi networks. Open hotspots do not encrypt data, so other users can see and access your files. Rogue connection points also exist to intentionally farm your data. Using a VPN will encrypt your traffic and bypass this issue altogether. If youâre not sure which to use, here are some ofÂ our favorites.
Avoiding Unwanted Advances
Unwanted sexual advances, from illicit photos to sexual requests, can happen to anyone. However, LGBTQ+ people often face specific perils.
For instance,Â if youâre trans, itâs not uncommon to be bombarded by intimate questions about your genitalia and sexual experiences, or be solicited for paid intercourse.
According to our survey, when comparing the experiences of people with different gender identities,Â transgender women felt the least safe online, and cisgender men felt the safest. It was also revealed that transgender people are frequently fetishized due to their gender. Many have the experience of being asked to expose themselves to their cis peers under the guise of learning about their transitions.
Dean, a transgender man recalls, âA high school classmate asked to see me naked so he could understand trans peopleâŠ even after I told him to research on his own. Then he started making sexual advances.â
Similarly,Â lesbian couples might receive unwanted advances from straight menÂ that have fetishized their relationships, and bi women are often perceived as being hypersexual and open to any sort of encounter.
âUsually itâll be an ignorant âWant to be in a threesome?â kind of sleazy comment,â said Priya, whoâs bi.Â
Hannah, also a bisexual woman, noted the existence of âunicorn hunters,â on platforms like Tinder. Â She defined them asÂ âpeople who search for bi girls to have threesomes with,âÂ and gave an example from her own experience:
âThe one that stuck in my head the most was this email I got from a joint profile. They were looking for a girl to have a threesome [with], and I apparently checked all the boxes they were looking for. The email was really polite actually, asking if Iâd be into it and if Iâd want to meet up.âÂ
However, she was acutely aware of the lack of social niceties and small talk before the offer, andÂ it left her feeling slightly dehumanized.
Itâs important to note that not all uncomfortable interactions rise to the level of harassment. Especially on dating sites, where many are looking for a hook-up,Â what might feel like crossing a boundary to one person could be a welcome proposition to another. If the interaction falls into that gray area, youâre going to have to make a call as to how to deal with it.
Also remember thatÂ itâs not your job to educate peopleÂ if you donât want to. While itâs true that some act from a place of ignorance, rather than malice, helping them see the light requires the type of emotional labor you donât owe anyone. Â
With that in mind, here are some steps you can take for various scenarios in which you are made to feel uncomfortable: Â Â Â Â Â
- If you do choose to engage, inform the problematic person that theyâre causing offense and explain how. Who knows, they might see the error in their ways and apologize for having crossed a line.
- If theyâre being totally rude and unacceptable, but you still want to respond in some way, you can tell them that if they continue their behavior youâll report them to the platform. Sometimes a simple threat is enough to make online trolls step down.
- If youâre not interested in a discussion, just block their account and report them to the platform through which youâre communicating.
- If harassment persists or escalates, and you fear for your safety, report them to the police. While the authorities often donât adequately respond to online harassment, it may be worth a shot, and reporting an incident at least begins an official paper trail that may become useful down the road.
Navigating the Workplace While QueerÂ
Despite growing visibility and acceptance, some LGBTQ people still face discrimination in the workplace.
In the US,Â inÂ 28 states, itâs still legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation, and termination due to gender identity is still allowed in 30 states.
âIâm worried my sexual identity being in the open could hurt my future career,â exclaimed Courtney, a bisexual woman.
These figures are truly shocking, but they highlight why itâs so important to know your rights.
Connecting with Colleagues on Social MediaÂ
By no means should anyone ever feel pressured to stay in the closet. That said,Â those who fear harassment or discrimination should know how to keep their personal and professional life separateÂ if they so choose.
But what if a coworker friends you on Facebook or follows you on Instagram? Do you block them or ignore their request, potentially leading to an awkward work dynamic, or even confrontation?
If you do feel pressured into a friendship with anyone youâre not comfortable with, there are ways to filter what they see.Â Most platforms let you customize who can see each post, so you can vary the information you share with certain people. Hereâs how to do this on popular social network sites:
Combating Harassment & Prejudice at Work
If you experience harassment or discrimination at work, it can be emotionally overwhelming. Especially with everything online nowadays, you might experience online harassment from your coworkers. However, that doesnât mean you canât get recourse. Hereâs where to start:
- Document every relevant interaction and collect evidence to take to HR or your lawyer.Â
- Use your phone to record potentially problematic conversations, so you have first-hand proof of what happened.
- If any evidence exists within your work email correspondence, be sure to copy and paste or screenshot the content elsewhere â because your employer can delete or edit messages that exist within the companyâs internal system. This applies to Slack or other online chat groups as well.Â
- Find someone you trust to help gather documentation. Having a witness will increase the credibility of your claims.
- If HR doesnât take your accusations seriously, find a third-party you can contact to push the case further.
- Know your rights. Being able to refer to specific legislation and guidelines regarding discrimination will help you go to battle with confidence.
Tips for Parents of LGBTQ+ Youth
If you are the parent of an LGBTQ+ child, itâs essential to verse yourself in online safety.
Queer youth are especially vulnerable to abuse and depression, mostly because they have less of an ability than adults to organize their lives around finding a supportive community.
It is important to stay involved in your childâs life and be aware of their mental health.Â By maintaining an open dialogue and monitoring their online activity, you can help keep them safe.Â
Similarly, if you discover that your child is queer but has not disclosed that information to you, it is important that you do not confront them about it. Instead, have an open dialogue and incorporate statements about the LGBTQ community that will help your child feel safe.
Talk to them, but more importantly LISTEN. Ask what help they need and what tactics theyâre using to protect themselves online. Many resources exist to support LGBTQ youth and their parents, so feel free to reach out and connect with others.
Below is a list of organizations that offer a plethora of resources for LGBTQ youth and their loved ones.
Exploitive Relationships Among LQBTQ+ YouthÂ
Studies show that LGBTQ+ youth are presented with more relevant risk factors than any other group of young people.
Often this occurs when children or youth come from homophobic/transphobic families that donât give them the support they need and deserve.Â Young people who are forced to stay in the closet due to fears of backlash from their parents are particularly at risk of sexual extortion.
âWhen I was younger, and the internet more ruthless, I had a man threatening to come to my house to tell my parents unless I sent him pictures,â recounts Giselle, an asexual transgender woman. âI had [nowhere] to go and thought that some stranger was going to tell my parents everything.â
In extreme (though unfortunately not uncommon) cases, youth without familial support end up homeless and often are forced toÂ turn to sex work as their only means of survival. According to Gil Fishhof, the Director of the Human Rights Youth Organization: âthese kids are engaging in sex as a means of acquiring the basic necessities that we take for granted like food, clothing, and shelter.âÂ
And even those who donât engage in sex work can be vulnerable to exploitation from adults who seek to establish a âsugar daddy/mommyâ relationship with someone who is young and easily manipulated. In explaining some of the potential reasons why young people who identify as LGBTQ+ might fall into unsavory relationships, Fishhof says, âyouth are less likely to say no in these situations becauseÂ they feel like they need to validate their sexual identities. It creates a fertile ground for sexual assault.â
In these situations, the responsibility falls to parents and caregivers to keep a watchful eye on the young people they care about. Itâs particularly important to keep an open dialogue about internet use andÂ ensure that minors stay away from the adult dating community.
If your child or a young person you care about is using one of these apps, have a conversation with them, and make sure they understand the risks of getting intimate with adults.
That said, while open and honest dialogue is always the best option for teaching your child about safety, if you think it necessary and have the ability to do so,Â you could also block their usage of these apps entirely.Â
One way to do this is by using parental control software.
These let you block apps, as well as track activity and messages. They can be as intrusive or unobtrusive as you want them to be, so you canÂ find the balance between respecting your childâs privacy and keeping them safe.
We Hope This HelpedÂ
In a perfect world, LGBTQ+ people wouldnât face a heightened risk online and would be free to express themselves however they wish. Sadly,Â social norms arenât changing fast enough, and we still have a long way to go before that reality is realized. Unfortunately, this means that LGBTQ+ people have to be extra careful, especially online.
We hope our guide helps you take control of interactions online and makes you feel safer, while at the same timeÂ empowering you to fully enjoy the digital aspects of your personal, intimate, and professional life.
*All names have been changed to protect individualsâ privacy.
**For the purposes of our survey, the categories bisexual and pansexual were combined.
***For the purposes of our survey, the categories genderqueer and non-binary were combined.
Respondents were asked, âHave you ever been personally attacked or harassed online?â
Sexual Harassment Online
Respondents were asked, âHave you ever received unwanted sexual texts/messages/pictures/advances online?â
Safety by Sexual Orientation
Respondents were asked, âIn general, how safe do you feel online? Answer on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being âvery safeâ and 1 ânot at all safe.ââ
|Sexual Orientation||Number of Respondents||Average Response|
Safety by Gender Identity
Respondents were asked, âHow safe do you feel online? Answer on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being âvery safeâ and 1 ânot at all safe.ââ
|Gender Identity||Number of Respondents||Average Response|
Outing by Gender Identity
Respondents were asked, âHave you ever been outed against your will online?â
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