Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth face about three times more bullying and harassment online compared to their non-LGBT peers, a report released Wednesday by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) shows.
LGBT youth also experience twice as much bullying or harassment via text message, according to the “Out Online” report.
Although LGBT youth are met with higher rates of cyberbullying, they tend to use the Internet more than non-LGBT youth to expand their peer-support networks, search for health and sexuality information and participate in civic engagement, the report found. This suggests that the Internet can both compliment and supplement in-person resources for LGBT youth.
“The Internet impacts almost all aspects of our lives, but is particularly entrenched in the lives of youth, who are the most connected people online in our society,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a statement. “LGBT youth continue to face extraordinary obstacles in their day-to-day lives whether at school or online, but the Internet can be a valuable source of information and support when they have no one or nowhere else left to turn to.”
The report is based on national surveys of 5,680 students ages 13 to 18, including 1,960 LGBT-identified youth. Harris Interactive conducted the surveys during August 2010 and January 2011.
According to the surveys, the LGBT youth often said they felt unsafe while online.
Of the LGBT youth respondents, 1 in 4 said they faced online victimization specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year, while 1 in 5 were bullied or harassed for those same reasons by text message.
And 1 in 3, or about 32 percent, of the LGBT youth surveyed said they experienced online sexual harassment in the past year. In comparison, just 8 percent of the non-LGBT youth reported being sexually harassed online.
The LGBT youth said cyberbullying typically occurred while they were at home. Essentially, that means new technology has allowed for harassment and bullying to expand outside of a school context, the report reads.
In general, LGBT youth who said they were both victimized online and in person reported lower grade point averages, lower self-esteem and higher instances of depression than all other youth, including LGBT teens who said they only faced harassment or bullying via text message and online.
Also, LGBT youth living in rural areas experienced far higher rates of online and text message victimization compared to their suburban and urban counterparts.
But the report did offer some good news.
Online spaces also provide a place where the teens can connect with other LGBT-identified people. Two-thirds, or 62 percent, of the LGBT youth said they used the Internet for that purpose in the past year. Also, 1 in 4 teens said they were more out online than in person.
Additionally, the Internet is a key resource for youth to turn to for LGBT-related education, which may not be provided in their schools, homes and communities, according to the report. Overall, LGBT youth are more likely to search online for information on sexuality and health, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, than non-LGBT youth.
Neal Palmer, research associate at GLSEN, suggested a need for more follow-up research in order to know for certain whether the young people are turning to the Internet for health-related information specifically because their schools lack LGBT-related curriculum.
But based on previous GLSEN research, LGBT students who have said that they have been taught positive information about LGBT people said the lessons came from their English or history classes, Palmer said.
“Few people say they’ve been taught positive and relevant information in their health or sex ed or physical education classes,” he explained.
The Internet is also a hub for civic engagement for many LGBT youth, the report noted.
A majority of the LGBT teens said they have used the Internet to blog, get the word out about a particular issue or cause and recruit people for a civic event.
Of the LGBT teens surveyed, 68 percent said they had volunteered and taken part in online or text-based civic activity in the past year.
“The Internet does not serve to simply reinforce the negative dynamics found offline regarding bullying and harassment,” said Michele Ybarra, president and research director of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, which partnered with GLSEN for the report. “Rather, this technology also offers LGBT youth critical tools for coping with these negative experiences, including access to understanding and accepting friends and exposure to health information that is unavailable elsewhere.”
In light of the findings, the report made various recommendations to help ensure the overall well-being of LGBT teens.
Advocates and educators should address LGBT online bullying in prevention programs, during educator trainings and as part of school policies, according to the report. Communities and schools should also increase access to in-person LGBT youth supports. Additionally, the report advises that schools include more inclusive sex education curriculum. Overall, access to online LGBT-youth resources that are factual, age appropriate and positive should also be increased, according to the report's many recommendations.
“As we look to the future, it is clear that the Internet and digital devices will continue to transform the way youth connect and communicate, and the way we educate," Byard said in the report. "We can only hope that someday LGBT youth will be unlikely to remember a time when their experiences online were anything other than positive.”