Growing up in a society where acceptance of one’s identity isn’t guaranteed can have adverse effects on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. Recent research from The Trevor Project found that negative treatment at home and at school, as well as legislation targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community, result in negative impacts on young queer peoples’ mental health. Like most young people, LGBTQ+ teens are increasingly connecting with their community online. research conducted by Thorn highlighted the significance of online communities to LGBTQ+ youth, noting that they can often be the places where these young people find the acceptance and affirmation that’s lacking in school and at home.
On Thursday, June 15th, FOSI hosted a webinar discussion centered on the connection between digital life and mental health within the LGBTQ+ community, and the organizations harnessing those connections to create safe spaces online to affirm and empower LGBTQ+ young people.
- Jackson Alder - Senior Digital Strategist, PFLAG National (They/them)
- Deborah S. Levine - Chief Program Officer, CenterLink: The Community of LGBTQ Centers (She/her)
- Wren Rhodes (moderator) - Executive Director, Sam & Devorah Foundation for Trans Youth (They/them)
- Christopher Wood - Executive Director & Co-Founder - LGBT Tech (He/him)
Opening remarks were provided by Jonathon Bridgeman - Administrator, FOSI (He/him)
Panelists discussed some trusted resources available for LGBTQ+ young people and their families to safely connect with their communities, Including:
- The PFLAG Connects: Communities program, which provides parents and family members a safe, virtual, moderated space where people with shared experiences can connect each month in affinity groups.
- Q Chat Space, which provides secure chat-based discussion groups for LGBTQ+ and questioning teens ages 13 to 19.
- imi, which provides tools for LGBTQ+ teens to explore their identities in ways that support their mental health.
- The Trans Mentor Project, a national e-mentoring program that securely pairs trans and nonbinary (TGNB) youth and young adults with TGNB adult mentors.
When asked how parents/guardians/family members of LGBTQ+ youth can protect and empower their children online and offline in the current climate, Jackson Alder encouraged folks to approach the LGBTQ+ young people in their lives with affirmation and support, giving them ownership of their exploration of the community while learning with and from them. Jackson shared resources including a Guide to Being a Straight Ally for individuals looking to be more active allies to the LGBTQ+ community.
Chris Wood spoke about the ways in which some schools are monitoring the activity of LGBTQ+ students, teachers, and their allies. Chris shared that LGBT Tech is urging educational tech companies that create products used in schools to include safeguards for LGBTQ+ students and their privacy, but suggested caution when using devices and networks provided by schools in places where state and local laws require teachers and administrators to report searching for anything LGBTQ+ related. Chris encouraged folks living in places with such laws to connect with their local PFLAG chapter or LGBTQ+ community center to acquire additional information and resources, and shared that LGBT Tech offers grants to individuals and community centers through their Power On program to fulfill technology needs.
When asked why safe spaces are so important for the LGBTQ+ community, Deborah S. Levine pointed to “safety and security” within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Deborah posited that safety is a need for all people, but that minority stress makes it less likely for LGBTQ+ individuals to find the safety they need in spaces not designed for them. Chris Wood spoke about the importance of reviewing privacy settings and the tools available on social media platforms when determining if they’re a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks and their privacy.
The panel then discussed instances of queer joy they’ve experienced working within channels that connect LGBTQ+ young people. Deborah S. Levine talked about the joy she felt seeing young people come into the chat-based discussions on Q Chat Space from less friendly rural areas, who are learning about queer history for the first time, and are talking with people like them for the first time. To conclude the discussion, the panelists each offered advice for parents and caregivers to help the young people in their lives find balance and prioritize their mental health. They emphasized the importance of learning along with their children, and finding resources when questions arise that they can't answer on their own.