LGBT youth are more likely to experience bullying online, but also more likely to use the internet to learn about issues and connect with others, according to a new study released by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The report, “Out Online,” investigated how LGBT young people are using the internet and the impacts of cyberbullying.
According to GLSEN’s study, LGBT youth actually use the internet about five hours a day, on average 45 minutes more than their straight, cisgender counterparts. They are significantly more likely to be searching for topics such as sexuality (62 percent vs. 12 percent), health or medical information (81 percent vs. 46 percent), and HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (19 percent vs. 5 percent).
LGBT young people are also more socially engaged online than their non-LGBT peers. Half of the LGBT respondents said that they had a close friend who they’d met online, compared to only 19 percent of non-LGBT respondents. This may be because of a desire to connect with other LGBT people; 62 percent had used the internet to do just that, particularly if their school did not have a gay-straight alliance or other out LGBT people for them to be friends with. Unsurprisingly, they were more likely to be out online than they are in person, and this was particularly true of transgender youth.
Interestingly, LGBT youth were also more than twice as likely to engage in civic participation online, including participating or recruiting people to an event, getting the word out about an issue or cause, and taking part in an online community that supports an issue or cause.
LGBT youth generally experience more bullying in person than online, but they are still targeted for cyberbullying at rates much higher than their non-LGBT peers. The survey found that 42 percent of LGBT youth had experienced cyberbullying, compared to just 15 percent of their non-LGBT peers. Rates were noticeably higher for youths living in rural areas. This bullying had consequences; those who experienced both online and in-person bullying reported lower GPAs, lower self-esteem, and higher rates of depression.
GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard pointed out in the study’s preface that it “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.” This is especially true because the report suggests that schools are not providing enough medically-accurate, age-appropriate health and sexuality information, forcing LGBT youth to seek out the information online on their own.
Not only have previous studies found that LGBT youth experience high rates of bullying in school and online, but LGBT teachers also feel unsafe to interrupt homophobia in the classroom. Implementing LGBT-inclusive curricula and allowing gay-straight alliances to form help reduce bullying and improve LGBT students’ academic performance.