LGBT+ History Month: Why is the internet important for LGBT+ young people and what can parents and carers do to help them stay safe?

24 Feb 2021 Becca Cawthorne

February is LGBT+ History Month, which is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, along with related civil rights movements. To commemorate this month, Childnet is celebrating five reasons the internet is an important space for LGBT+ young people to explore their identity and five things parents and carers can do to help them stay safe online.

1. A space to explore identity

The internet is a place where everyone can explore content that they identify with or find inspiring. For LGBT+ young people, seeing content that celebrates and respects difference can be reassuring, especially if this is not something they are experiencing in their offline life.

90% of LGBT young people say they can be themselves online (Stonewall School Report 2017), and we know the internet can be an important space for LGBT+ young people to express themselves truthfully in the content that they create and share. For example, trans young people or young people with other gender identities may feel more able to represent their true gender online.

2. A space to feel part of something

Loneliness can be part of many LGBT+ people’s experiences, especially when they are younger and perhaps feel they do not have anyone else around them who can identify with what they are going through. In these instances, young LGBT+ people can use the internet to feel part of a supportive community. For example, they can access LGBT+ forums or groups and conversations using social media.

3. A space for help, guidance and education

Being LGBT+ comes with its own unique set of challenges, such as coming to terms with who you are in a society that doesn’t always accept you, or fear of discrimination and rejection.

Guidance and help with wellbeing, practical support, and trans-specific care, to name just a few, are more readily available because of the internet. Organisations like Young Stonewall provide much-needed support that LGBT+ people may not be able to get from the people that are currently around them.

96% of LGBT young people say the internet has helped them understand more about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (Stonewall School Report 2017). The internet can be an important source of educational information that may not be taught or shared in all schools.

4. A space for change

Despite the progress made in terms of equality for LGBT+ people, discrimination against the community has inspired people of all ages to take to the internet to voice their opinions and fight for LGBT+ causes they care about.

The internet allows content like this to be shared with large audiences online, and in many cases can lead to positive change offline. Campaigning can be an empowering and meaningful part of LGBT+ young people’s online lives, which also helps them feel included and listened to.

5. A space where they are represented

Technology and the internet has also contributed towards the ongoingfight for greater representation of minority groups. For example, there are now emojis showing gender neutral characters and same-sex couples and families.

Additionally, 95% of LGBT young people say the internet has helped them find positive role models (Stonewall School Report, 2017). The importance of seeing people you identify with or who look like you should never be underestimated. LGBT+ young people may be more likely to find a role model online whose experiences are more like their own than in their offline communities.

What can parents and carers do to help LGBT+ young people stay safe online?

Last year, Childnet worked with Stonewall to publish guidance for teachers and other professionals on how to support all young people, including those who identify as LGBT, with staying safe online. As part of that document, these five top tips were written specifically for parents and carers: 

Be supportive

Make sure your child knows that, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, you’re on their side. Let them know they can come to you in any situation – including to talk about life online. Childnet’s ‘Let’s Talk About Life Online’ leaflet can support with this.

Be positive

Recognise that the online world might be an important part of your child’s life. Acknowledge the opportunities it has to offer and talk about the things they love about using the internet.

Be clear about your expectations

Discuss and agree on how your whole family can use the internet safely and positively. Make it clear that sites and services intended for over-18s are not appropriate but offer online and offline alternatives where your child can make friends and feel comfortable to be themselves.

Childnet’s Family Agreement can support with this.

Be open and honest

Keep talking with your child about their online experiences and, if things go wrong, make sure you’re familiar with the tools available, like blocking and reporting, to support them moving forward.

Be alert

Look out for unusual behaviour. If your child is avoiding using the internet or phone, or seems preoccupied after going online, check in with them and share your concerns.

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