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Fix the Glitch for LGBTQ+ people online

I sat down to start this blog a few weeks ago. I thought a blog about supporting LGBTQ+ people online was going to be simple — I’m part of the community and I spend a lot of time online. My job is helping others to be safer online. Then we had some tech news that changed the direction of conversations happening online and I had to rethink what I wanted to share.

To address the billionaire-sized elephant in the room, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has raised questions and concerns for many of the platform’s users, especially for people from the LGBT+ community. Twitter hasn’t suddenly become unsafe, for many marginalised people it was never safe and the current discussions around abuse and power on the platform aren’t new. However, accounts that had been banned for hateful conduct were reinstated under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’ and Musk himself was posting conspiracy theories. The current feeling is that Twitter is heading in a direction that will be less safe for many. Preliminary research suggests the impact of these changes has been rapid, with the use of slurs that target trans people increasing by 53% and the use of a slur directed at gay men increasing by 39%. By focusing on freedom of speech without robust moderation procedures people are being given the freedom to abuse (see our blog here) — by protecting people’s rights to say whatever they want (even if that context is hateful), Twitter has exposed thousands of its users to an increase in abuse.

Although the news from Twitter has highlighted some concerns about online platforms it cannot be the main focus. Twitter isn’t the only platform where abuse happens and neither is homophobic or transphobic abuse online a new phenomenon. Research has shown time and time again that the most marginalised people offline are also those most likely to receive abuse online. When 8 out of 10 LGBTQ+ people have experienced online abuse, it’s clear that something is going wrong. Online spaces have been a place where transphobia has flourished; where the word grooming has been weaponised against LGBTQ+ educators; where misinformation about what it is to be trans has been allowed to spread so far that it’s become acceptable to spread hatred and vitriol on public platforms; where trans activists have been doxed and their home addressed leaked, forcing them to move to a safe location; where it was deemed acceptable to the abuse helpline staff at Mermaids, a charity for trans youth, shutting down the service and preventing young people and their loved ones from accessing vital support. It’s obvious there is work to do.

All the examples above emphasise that we need to listen to the experience of the LGBTQ+ community as part of Glitch’s work to make online spaces safe. Many LGBTQ+ folks are using their online accounts less — demonstrating the silencing impact of online abuse at work. It has led to feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety and stress and fearing for their physical safety.

This isn’t acceptable. Online spaces should be a place where we are free to be ourselves, connect with our community and celebrate who we are, without a fear of abuse. Where people who might otherwise be isolated and unable to be their true selves are able to reach out and know they aren’t alone. A space where a young person who is questioning their identity can find others like them and realise they aren’t alone, they’re not broken and there isn’t anything wrong with them. It should be a place LGBT+ identities are visible, wonderful and joyful. A place to ask questions or a place to find family, a place to find events and gatherings and facilitate new friendships and relationships.

I’m not sure I’d have ever accepted my own sexuality and gender without online spaces. Growing up I thought I could be attracted to either men or women, but I didn’t realise there was a word for how I felt about both. It all felt really other until I started to be a part of online communities growing up. When I was able to connect to other people through my love of graphic novels, animated films and TV, and art I got to meet so many new and wonderful people. Through these connections, I found friends and people I admired who not only talked about LGBTQ+ identities but celebrated them. I was able to follow LGBTQ+ creators, listen to their ideas and begin to really think about it myself and come to know that the way I felt wasn’t wrong and that there was a word for it — bisexual. Suddenly there was an identity I related to and I had the language to talk about how I felt without shame.

I certainly couldn’t have come to understand my gender without the internet: I’m so thankful that other non-binary people felt safe to share their experiences online. I didn’t know there was a word for how I felt, that I didn’t fit into the binary of man or woman. Through online spaces, I again found the language I could use and I was able to connect with other non-binary folk. I could understand that this was something to be celebrated rather than hidden. Without the visibility of LGBTQ+ people online, without being able to explore their identities and without seeing their joy, I don’t know where I’d be today.

Safe online spaces are so important for LGBTQ+ people and something we’re working for at Glitch. You can be a part of helping to make that happen.

  1. Be an Online Active Bystander and help when you see someone experiencing abuse. This is such a vital part of being a good digital citizen. By noticing and then taking action when you see others experience online abuse you are helping to challenge the narrative that abuse is to be expected, it helps the person experiencing abuse know they aren’t alone and helps to prevent the silencing of marginalised communities.
  2. Listen to LGBT+ people, and be led by them. Take note of what they are asking for and what they need to make online spaces safer. Is there a way you can help?
  3. Help us reach more folks in the LGBTQ+ community with workshops and support. Donate to our Big Give fundraiser, an opportunity to provide the funding to deliver workshops written for LGBTQI+ folks and allies to learn how to look after themselves and each other. Providing the tools and resources to stay safe and navigate the digital world. (link) https://donate.thebiggive.org.uk/campaign/a056900002NfVH3AAN (We only have until Dec 6th)

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