LGBTQ Online Safety Guide 2023: How to Stay Safe on the Internet
The internet is a lifeline for the LGBTQ community, but LGBTQ online safety continues to be a concern. Being an LGBTQ person online comes with challenges and trials. You can connect with other queer people online or on dating apps, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t vulnerable to harassment, online bullying or doxxing.
Individuals who use dating, or social networking apps can fall victim to catfishing and other scams. Many LGBTQ individuals experiencing less-than-ideal conditions at home or in their communities turn to the internet as a lifeline — only to find they’re still subject to bullying or discrimination.
This article will cover how LGBTQ individuals can stay safe online, with tips on how to find safe online spaces where you can connect with other members of the community.
How do you stay safe online while LGBTQ?Be careful of who you interact with. Don’t share intimate information with people whose identity you can’t verify. You can also use alt accounts to safeguard your identity if you are not out yet.
What is a safe LGBTQ online space?This is an online community whose members are either other LGBTQ individuals or committed allies. In a safe space, you can freely express yourself and your gender identity or sexuality.
How can you keep an LGBTQ identity private online?You can create a different profile for yourself where you don’t divulge your personal information. You can also use your privacy settings to make sure only your trusted contacts can view your account.
Online Communities and LGBTQ Support
The people who say the internet is not a substitute for real life are right. It isn’t. It’s a supplement to real life. Just like books and TV, the internet is a tool that can be used for good or ill. And just like those other tools, the internet is most useful in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.
If you’re on the LGBTQ spectrum, you might feel alone and isolated in your experiences, especially if you’re in a more conservative location or you aren’t out yet. The internet helps you engage and build relationships with people who identify with the same sexual orientation or gender identity you do, which can be a huge help in navigating your feelings and coming out.
Young people today have more access to queer relationships and communities than any previous generation did. Before, there was no way for young people to know how many other LGBTQ people there were, much less talk to them without leaving home.
That’s why online communities and resources are so important — they provide something for LGBTQ people to seek, hold on to and find comfort in. It’s important to make the experience a safe one.
LGBTQ Online Safety: Cyberbullying Statistics & Facts
Cyberbullying is the use of digital technologies to harm other people in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner. This can range from sending rude emails to spreading rumors on social media to threatening real-life violence.
LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience cyberbullying than their straight peers. Studies have shown that victims are more likely to develop depression or other mental health issues as a result of these incidents.
Cyberbullying is a problem across social networking sites, but LGBTQ individuals are more likely to face online harassment and bullying online than others. Here are some of the risks LGBTQ people face every day online.
- Almost half (48.7%) of LGBTQ students are cyberbullied. (Cyberbullying.org)
- Almost twice as many LGBTQ students reported being cyberbullied compared to their heterosexual peers. (Cyberbullying.org)
- Black LGTBQ youth face a higher risk of mental health issues from cyberbullying compared to non-black LGBTQ youth. (American University)
- Bisexual women and bisexual men are more likely to face sustained online harassment compared to gay or hetereosexual women and men. (European Journal of Criminology)
- Half of transgender people and bisexual women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, both online and offline. (HRC)
- According to a review of 27 empirical studies, the levels of victimization in the queer population range from 10.5% to 71.3%. This changed depending on how cyberbullying was measured and the differences in demographics studied. (Cyberbullying.org)
Aside from cyberbullying, LGBTQ students are harassed and bullied in real life:
- 70.1% of LGBTQ students are verbally harassed for their sexual orientation.
- 59.1% are harassed for their gender expression (how someone dresses or acts based on social norms associated with a particular gender).
- 53.2% are harassed for their gender orientation or identifying as trans as opposed to cisgender.
- To avoid being bullied, 10% of LGBTQ teens have skipped school. The figure is only at 6% with heterosexual teens. These teens might seek comfort online, but face the risk of being bullied there as well. (CDC)
- Students who identify as “not sure” about their sexual orientation also face being bullied, with 26.9% facing bullying incidents on campus and 19.4% online. (Stopbullying.gov)
It’s no wonder LGBTQ individuals look for safer places to communicate and express themselves online. Knowing how to stay safe and prevent LGBTQ cyberbullying is critical. Here are tips to get started.
7 Important LGBTQ Internet Safety Tips
The internet and social media have made it easier than ever to connect with others in the LGBTQ community and feel empowered by your identity. Unfortunately, that empowerment also comes with risks.
Whether you’re just coming to terms with your identity or have been out for years, here are handy tips for having a safer online experience as an LGBTQ person.
1. Talk In Private Spaces
If you have been bullied online or are concerned about being harassed online, private communication is essential to creating a LGBTQ safe space.
Private communications provide opportunities to connect with each other without worrying about being judged or misunderstood — which is especially important for young people just discovering their identities.
Many LGBTQ people have turned to private servers and chats in the digital world to find communities like themselves. These include LGBT Discord servers, Tumblr communities and even youth-friendly sites like TrevorSpace. By making sure the members are vetted and trustworthy, you can ensure your online safety.
2. Consider a Separate Profile
For LGBTQ individuals, there are unique concerns about revealing one’s identity. For example, in 28 states, it’s still legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation.
Some individuals choose to create a separate profile, with a different name and photo. This profile can be used only for LGBTQ spaces, including for meeting potential partners. You might feel more comfortable coming out online first because you don’t have to face your loved ones immediately and can take time to process your feelings.
When you do come out in person, ask those close to you who are accepting not to out you until you are ready. If you trust them, invite them to your private profile, so they can see this important aspect of yourself before you tell the rest of the world.
Note, however, that whether or not you make a second profile, your online activity will still be linked to you through your IP address. You can use a VPN to keep yourself more secure when accessing your second profile from work or another sensitive location.
3. Delete Threatening Comments
No LGBTQ person should ever feel obligated to respond or explain themselves to attackers online. You can delete threatening or bigoted comments from your profile on most social media.
Some websites also have reporting tools for comments. Although they don’t always work, it’s worth reporting a comment to help the website keep track of how many people are being harassed.
Finally, you can consider reducing your internet use, or even shutting your profile down or stepping away until you feel better about the situation. Your emotional health is more important than responding to someone else’s harassment.
4. Block Offending Users
If someone is harassing you on social media, it’s better to block them than to unfriend or unfollow them. A block means they won’t be able to see your content and they won’t be able to find you on the platform with the account they used to harass you.
However, the offender could create a new account and start bothering you again. They simply have to register with a new email ID or phone number. Because of this, you might find yourself blocking the same person over and over again (which, admittedly, can be stressful).
LGBTQ individuals shouldn’t feel the need to put up with harassment online. If you’re facing harassment on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, block the user as many times as necessary. It’s a simple, sometimes tiring, solution, but needed at times for your mental health.
5. Reach Out to the Platform
In order to help combat cyberbullying, members of the LGBTQ community should reach out to platform administrators to get offenders banned from the site if they are facing cyberbullying online.
This is useful if somebody is making multiple accounts to keep harassing you after being blocked. Site administrators can ban them based on their IP address to keep their accounts from touching you.
If you are part of an online chat community or space like Reddit or Discord, you can also get in touch with the moderators and ask them to ban the individuals.
6. Don’t Share Personal Information
Some LGBTQ individuals are out to their families and friends, but not the general public. Some people may not feel comfortable sharing their sexuality or gender identity with anyone they don’t know or otherwise trust.
If you don’t want everyone in the world seeing something, it doesn’t belong on a public site like Facebook. Make sure your privacy settings are set properly, and only share information with people you trust to safeguard your online privacy.
7. Be Careful When Mentioning Your Identity
LGBTQ individuals have increased risk of internet users targeting them to expose their identity. There have been incidents where cyberbullies target LGBTQ individuals online and trick them into revealing sensitive information by threatening to expose their sexual identity if they don’t comply.
If you are not out, think twice before sharing personal information online. You never know who’s behind the screen.
LGBTQ Online Dating Safety Tips
We all have the right to love and be loved.
The LGBTQ community is no exception. With so many people on dating apps, you’d think it would be easy for LGBTQ singles to find a partner. But just like with the internet at large, we face unique risks in online dating.
It’s important for LGBTQ people to learn how to stay safe when dating online and look out for certain red flags. There are steps you can take to ensure your safety and peace of mind when swiping through profiles on your favorite dating apps.
1. Research Anyone You Match With
Online dating sites can be especially dangerous for LGBTQ people. In a world where people hate you for who you love, some people may take advantage of the vulnerability and uncertainty you feel.
A dangerous online relationship can seem safe at the start. You can quickly become attracted to someone who expresses familiarity and support. But they might be pretending to be something they aren’t to exploit you.
Research anyone you match with. Google them to prove they are who they say they are. Make sure you can verify their identity before meeting them in person.
2. Tell A Friend Where You’re Going
Before meeting someone you met on a dating app in person, take steps to ensure your personal and financial safety.
Tell a friend or family member where you’re going. On the slim chance your “date” wants to hurt you, someone should know where you are.
Even if you have done a background check and verified the person you are meeting up with is who they claim to be, it’s important to tell someone where you’re going on your date. It’s also advisable to stay sober on dates until you know you can trust the person.
3. Meet Somewhere Public
If you are meeting your match for the first time, meet them in a public place with other people around. Make sure it isn’t your regular hangout, so if you’re not out yet, you don’t risk getting spotted by people you know.
Meeting in public also ensures that if anything happens on your date, there will be others who can help you and call the police.
4. Don’t Share Secrets Right Away
Be careful of sharing information that could disclose your identity. Make sure you trust who you’re talking to before sharing intimate pictures or private information about yourself.
Remember not to get intimate until you have had multiple conversations with someone and feel comfortable with them. If they start professing their love immediately, that’s a red flag. Protect yourself from harm by taking it slow.
5. Set Up a Silent Alarm
If you’re an LGBTQ person using dating apps, there is one unusual safety measure you can take that most people don’t know. It’s called the “angel shot.”
The idea is if you are out on a first date with someone you met online and it starts to go south, you ask the bartender for a specific drink called the “angel shot.” Depending on how unsafe you feel, there are variations:
- “Angel shot neat” indicates you feel unsafe with your date and would like the bartender to call you a ride or a taxi, even escort you to it.
- “Neat with ice” means the bartender should call an Uber or Lyft for you.
- “With lime or a twist” means you would like the bartender to call the police.
This isn’t widely known among bartenders. So while you might be able to use this strategy in a bar where the workers are aware of it, you shouldn’t take your chances and depend on it as a strategy.
Sometimes, it’s just better to ask for help straight out, so don’t be afraid to be vocal should the situation call for it. Your safety comes first.
Parents of LGBTQ Youth & Children: How to Support Your Kids Online
Supportive parents of LGBTQ children are often anxious about the safety of their children online. They worry their kids will be exposed to dangers they can’t control.
Ways in which LGBTQ youth are at risk include cyberbullying, sexual advances by strangers and harassment by unsupportive family members. The following tips can help parents provide support to their LGBTQ children.
1. Let Them Know They Can Tell You Anything
As a parent, it can be tricky to navigate the conversation with your LGBTQ child, but it’s important that they feel safe and supported online.
First, make sure your kids know being LGBTQ isn’t wrong or shameful. Parents often don’t realize how much their love and acceptance can mean to their children. Parents must understand that being LGBTQ is not a “phase” — it’s a fundamental part of many people’s identities.
Even if you have strong feelings that may be different from your child’s experience, try to focus on making your child feel loved and supported. It can be scary for kids to think about coming out to their parents, and you’re the only one who can make it less scary. Now is the time to focus on your children, not on your personal views.
2. Help Them Find Resources Online
Online resources can be especially helpful for parents of LGBTQ kids who may feel lost or unsure of how best to support their children. Looking up resources together is a great way to show your kids you support them and want to help them navigate this complex topic.
Here are some websites to get you started:
- HealthyChildren.org guide for parents
- It Gets Better
- Genders & Sexualities Alliance Networks
3. Be Alert For Changes In Behavior
The first step to preventing cyberbullying is knowing when your child is being targeted. If your child starts acting withdrawn, nervous or irritable, it’s possible they’re being cyberbullied. Kids who once were outgoing may start avoiding school and other social events if they feel threatened by bullies.
Other signs your child might be a target of cyberbullying include:
- Making excuses not to hang out with certain friends.
- Changing the way they dress or act.
- Getting upset after going online or getting a text message from someone.
- Deleting texts or emails from someone.
It’s important to talk with your child about cyberbullying, so you can help them deal with it. Make yourself available to help by looking at their online profiles to see if you can see what’s going on.
Ask them if there is anything you need to know. If they don’t want to talk about it, you may need to follow them on social media to see what they post online and who they interact with. Monitoring your kids online is almost never the best way to build trust, but it’s occasionally acceptable if the alternative is more cyberbullying.
For many LGBTQ individuals, being open about their sexual and gender identity comes after a lot of thought and with a lot of risk. As members of a community that is still subject to prejudice and discrimination, our “coming out” deserves special consideration.
Coming out may come easily for some. If you have a group of friends who are supportive or live in a place where there is less stigma around being LGBTQ, the decision may not seem as scary.
But for many others, it can feel overwhelming. If you have family members who disapprove, worry about losing your job or place to live or just prefer to keep your identity private, coming out is riskier. Finding supportive online spaces can make it significantly easier to take the step.
There are online resources with advice on how to come out safely to your friends and family to reduce the chance of negative consequences. Some LGBTQ organizations that offer these resources include:
Please note, this post does not offer complete advice on how to stay safe online as an LGBTQ individual. Do as much additional research as you need to better equip yourself. As always, thank you for reading.
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