LGBT youth online: the good and the bad

A new report released this week by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, looks the experience of LGBT youth online. The study, Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet, the first to examine these experiences in depth and is based on national surveys of 5,680 students in 6-12th grade. defines cyberbullying as when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.

The study by GLSEN study found that nearly half of LGBT youth reported being harassed or bullied online. This is three times more than non-LGBT youth. Of those, 27 percent reported feeling unsafe online.

Online victimization contributed to negative self-esteem and higher depression. The study also found that the grades, self-esteem, and mental health of those who had experienced cyberbullying suffered significantly, especially among those who faced both in-person and online bullying.

“This research adds to the growing literature documenting increased risk for victimization among LGBT youth, finding that this increased risk extends to the Internet and text messaging,” said Dr. Kimberly Mitchell, Research Associate Professor at the Crimes against Children Research Center.  Effective prevention efforts need to target not just face-to-face interactions, but online and text messaging-based scenarios as well.”

Aside from looking at cyberbullying, the study looked at the overall online lives of LGBT youth.

Results found that 62% of LGBT youth have searched for information online on sexuality or sexual attraction and are more likely to have searched for health and medical information compared to non-LGBT youth. These results show indicated that through the internet LGBT youth gain access to resources not necessarily available in person.

The Internet was shown to also be a space that offers safer opportunities to express who they are and find peer support. 50% of LGBT youth reported having at least one close online friend, compared to only 19% of non-LGBT youth and LGBT youth rated their online friends as more supportive than non-LGBT youth rated their online friends. Two-thirds of LGBT youth had used the Internet to connect with other LGBT people in the past year.

Finally the study reported high rates of civic engagement online, including that 77% LGBT youth have taken part in an online community that supports a cause or issues, 76% gotten the word out about a cause or an issue, and 68% have written a blog post or posted comments on another blog about a cause or an issue. Suggesting that Internet technologies may serve as an important resource and foster civic participation for some LGBT youth.

In general, the results of this study show the multifaceted nature of the relationship between LGBT youth and the online world. The internet has become an important world for all youth, but especially LGBT youth. For that reason, it is crucial to address and act on the distressing statistics on cyberbullying and its alarming effects on LGBT youth.