Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth have for many years been an under-studied subpopulation of youth. Recently, however, the subpopulation group has gathered an amplified attention from several scholars and human rights activists, mainly with concerns to how LGBT experiences of stigma and discrimination have negatively influenced their school and family life. For more than a decade, the Internet use has been acknowledged as a powerful tool with benefits of social support. Whether it is the social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube videos, millions of people around the world are using the Internet daily to communicate with their family and friends.
The use of the internet can be exclusively important resources for many young individuals who are stigmatized and have no adequate social support from the society in real life. A growing community of youth that is predominantly using the Internet as a social support system is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths. In fact, recent study conducted in the United States of America found that the LGBT youth were more likely to get social support online than offline (Cianciotto et al. 9)
LGBT youth Internet use
The LGBT youths internet usage, especially in the adoption of social networking sites, has been very widespread and rapid (GLSEN 3).The internet use creates a space used primarily to connect with personal friends and family members. Recently it has been discovered that substantial minority group of LGTB youth are using the internet specifically the social networking sites to connect with other individuals whom they have never met before, whereas the youth who have strong social networks use social networking sites mainly to reinforce their individual connections. The youth with more weak individual social connections may use the Internet to grow their in-person networks and avoid loneliness (Cianciotto et al. 17).The possibility of developing new relationships may be predominantly alluring to socially marginalized youth such as the LGTB because it connects them to a resource with the support that hardly available through their educational institutions, families, and the community.
Whereas identifying an individual as LGBT may adversely affect individual social networks and result in the social provocation, it may serve as the basis for internet social connections. The desire to find other LGBT youths through the Internet, possibly for the first time may lead to self-expression of ones sexual or gender identity and thus result in decreased isolation and enhanced psychological health
However, GLEN organization helps to create the awareness that through the Internet usage LGBT youths may be exposed to possibly destructive communities and practices. Internet use may present a widespread exposure to homophobic information and to possibly harmful influences on self-acceptance (Cianciotto et al. 36). Cyber bullying through social networking sites, text messages and emails has also been discovered to result in damaging psychological outcomes which largely target LGBT youth at higher rates than non-LGBT youths (Vaccaro et al. 42).The occurrence of such behavior may result in more harmful experiences on internet space than would be observed in physical space since these experiences may be undetected and, therefore, unaccompanied with the necessary intervention.
As advancement in technologies has increased the access to information and the general society, researchers have begun to investigate the impact of these technologies to facilitate positive life outcomes especially to marginalized groups in the society. Many individuals typically devote most of their time online not only to build multiple distinct lives but also to access information that will improve their lives offline and hence the general quality of their lives. Vaccaro et al., suggest guidelines for thriving online especially for LGBT youths groups, including solidifying the present relationships, cultivating new meaningful bonds with people of the same experiences, and deliberately presenting ones identities (16).
In recent years, the Internet use has been revealed to be mostly appealing to individuals sidelined from physical spaces interaction by certain physical and social characteristic (Subrahmanyam and David Smahel 68).Usually, the individuals are marginalized from public spaces interactions by those around them such as their family members, friends as well as general society. Those who are disadvantaged by such factors as the sexual orientation, gender perception, age, and the LGBT youths, therefore, must seek useful resources from other sources to avoid discriminations (Subrahmanyam and David Smahel 85).
Vaccaro et al., call for a superior understanding of situations in the social contexts occupied by the marginalized LGBT youths could be stretched to online contexts (76). For the youth groups who are sidelined from physical spaces, the online spaces present a lot of resources that may be inaccessible in person. Therefore, the online space has the potential to allow for substantial improvements in social support, physical well-being, a sense of belonging and psychosocial support. For instance, the LGBT youths are deprived of the access to important information on sexual identity (McCormack 93), and other gender identity subjects that may be less spoken in educational institutions, given that educators may have insufficient information on these topics or may shy away from discussing these issues.
Additionally, LGBT youths may find it difficult to access other individuals with similar experiences or non- LGBT individuals in the society who understand their experiences. LGBT youths may not fully engage in meaningful participation in their education institutions and the society because of experiences of discrimination and harassment or by some public policies and behavior practices that judge LGBT issues to be unsuitable for the society context. For LGBT youths who experience these challenges, the resources on online spaces may offer better opportunities rarely obtainable in person. In such situations, available resources on the internet might be anticipated to play a significant role for LGBT youths. In addition, the use of internet resources by LGBT youths may produce desired positive social outcomes, including improved psychosocial well-being and an improved performance in other aspects of life for example in education institutions and the society as a whole.
Potential Benefits of Internet Support
The internet access may offer an alternative space for a marginalized group to access resources and new materials (GLSEN 4), for relationship development and individual identity exploration (8). In providing spaces that allow individuals to express their identities openly, the Internet use significantly provides the root source of authentic social support. GLSEN organization, affirms that recurrent presentations in an assumed internet space not only benefit one to negotiate identity but also creates the foundation for relationships. Over time, sharing information through the internet may initially be linked to self-expression and exploration of ones identity, and then progressively become the center for social interactions. Most research has discovered evidence of valuable emotional and informational social support online. These supports include the use in providing encouraging, considerate, and advice-based messages (GLSEN 7).Though one comprehensive evaluation of formal, internet-based, health-related support groups discovered that they were not reliably related to reducing depression and instantaneously increase in social support (McCormack 71).Much of the significant benefits of Internet-based social support may be found in its informal nature and its ready accessible resources in times of need.
Recent research on the internet use by LGBT youths shows that they are not only finding it to be more adventurously, but they are also using the internet as a tool for in-person networking. The LGBT youths are using the Internet to develop and sustain helpful and close relationships. Though these relationships may involve individuals they do not know in physical space, the connections are providing critical information, occasionally life-changing social support. The LGBT youths are very active in Internet use and experience several benefits from their online interaction, including: expressing the identity, meeting potential partners, and most importantly obtaining sexual health information. Certainly, while the Internet has become part of all the contemporary youths lives, it appears that for many LGBT youth groups, the Internet usage may be a more crucial source of substantial resources than it is other youths. While there are many concerns about the safety of online interactions like meeting individuals not known before, the Internet seems to be filling main gaps in social support and availability of health information for LGBT youths. It is, therefore, important for individuals and organization working to support LGBT youth to recognize the significant value of the Internet for the marginalized group; and to help them to navigate this important online space healthfully.
Cianciotto, Jason, and Sean Cahill. Lgbt Youth in America's Schools. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2012. Print.
GLSEN,. 'Out Online: The Experiences Of LGBT Youth On The Internet'. N.p., 2015. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
McCormack, Mark. The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys Are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
Sears, James T. Youth, Education, and Sexualities: Vol. 1. Westport, Conn. [u.a.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Print.
Subrahmanyam, Kaveri, and David Smahel. Digital Youth: The Role of Media in Development. New York: Springer, 2011. Internet resource.
Vaccaro, Annemarie, Gerri August, and Megan S. Kennedy. Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to Lgbt Youth. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger, 2012. Print.
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