The internet is weird and scary, but it is undeniable that it is one of the most important tools for shaping the LGBTQIA+ community and culture.
When people broadly talk about how the internet is the bane of their existence, I immediately think of pre-teen gay kids living in towns of 500 people or less. What physical community exists for them? Would they have access to a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) or accurate non-bigoted information in their physical space? Realistically, sometimes the only place to see people like them who are living happy and fulfilling lives, is online. There is plenty of terrible information on the web, but the only way to learn about the many facets of their community is to log on. Information on queer health or history is not so accessible anywhere else.
GLAAD, a non-governmental monitoring organization for LGBTQIA+ representation in the media found that of the 109 releases from major film studios in 2017, only 14 (12.8%) of them included characters that were LGBTQ. This represents a significant decrease from the previous year’s report (18.4%, 23 out of 125), and the lowest percentage of LGBTQ-inclusive major studio releases since GLAAD began tracking in 2012. Not one of the 109 releases had transgender representation.
It is painfully isolating not to know anyone else who is gay or trans. It is excruciating not to have the vocabulary to define yourself. Representation is still so difficult to find in mainstream commercial media, and when it exists, it tends to be drowned in stereotype and tragedy. Access to indie shows, books, art, and music that is created for and by the community needs greater importance. Storytelling is a way we can explore ourselves and our identities and have the power to speak our truths.
The internet amplifies stories and the practice of stories. People become able to look up the historical figures absent from their history class. They can find books that never got a chance to be assigned in a high school syllabus. They can create and share things that are typically discarded as different or abnormal, and find similarities, celebrate differences.
The positive impact of internet culture on the queer community is quantifiable. While there aren’t many studies on queer youth’s online interactions, scholar Leanna Lucero has explored the “the numerous ways that multiple marginalized LGBTQ youth use social media as part of their everyday experiences, in an attempt to safely navigate their lives through learning, participating, engaging, communicating and constructing identities in digital spaces.”
She explored participants’ accessibility to social media and the frequency of their activity on various platforms. Her data-driven analysis suggests that social media can be a safe space for LGBTQ youth to delve into the complexities of their sexuality and gender in more nuanced ways.
Obviously, the internet is not always a safe haven. Harassment, bullying, and death threats plague online spaces, and can be especially directed at the queer community. Sometimes negativity and harassment even comes from within the community. But without it, so many of us would feel increasingly isolated, only hearing hateful or ignorant voices from whichever ‘real world’ we happen to be situated in.
But the internet isn’t going away. Social media will continue to evolve beyond our imaginations. It’s important for us to make sure that the internet becomes more of a shelter for queer communities. In small towns and high schools, people don’t always get to see a reflection of their identity in a positive way. Comfort and acceptance can be found in everything from Autostraddle to queer barbers on Instagram. Learning identifying words from folks can make you finally feel at home with yourself. Technology can be our weapon and our shield against the world, and we must continue raising and practising awareness of this power and responsibility in the digital age.
Artwork by Francis Picabia “Hera”