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Net Neutrality is Vital to the LGBTQ Community

Sarah Kate Ellis

Open access to the Internet altered the course of history, including the fight for LGBT rights. That online freedom is now being threatened, writes GLAAD's Sarah Kate Ellis.

Right now, LGBTQ youth are on their phones, tablets, and computers connecting to the world and learning. The Internet provides them with a trove of resources that older generations never had access to, and it is truly a lifeline. But today that lifeline is under attack and the disappearance of net neutrality is one of the primary ways that could cut it off.

Net neutrality is something that most people in this country are intimately familiar with -- though they may not know it. Defined as "the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites," it is something that has defined content online since the widespread adoption of the Internet. What many may not be aware of is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently proposed a plan to end net neutrality - and August 30 is the last day that you have to comment.

An Internet with net neutrality is in many ways a great equalizer. Regardless of income, privilege, or any other factor, a person can start a website, blog, or social media account. Put basically, we all start with the same egg as our profile picture on Twitter and go from there. But removing net neutrality would erase that -- money and influence would prioritize a select few and leave others without a platform. One of the most important products of net neutrality is giving a voice to the voiceless -- marginalized groups who historically never have had a "mainstream" platform. For the LGBTQ community, that has been fundamental component of the progress made over the past two decades.

When you look at the evolution of the LGBTQ movement, the Internet and blogging were critical to its growth and development. Chat rooms for queer people created safe spaces on a new scale and allowed for people to connect with individuals like them, regardless of distance. Net neutrality is also critical for things like political organizing because it is the digital embodiment of free speech, a hallmark of any social movement and a catalyst of change. Not to mention a core tenet of this country and the principles that it was founded on.

The Internet is also a crucial place for the LGBTQ community to gather resources and learn about things like our history or LGBTQ-specific sex education as many school curriculums don't include it. People can learn about coming out, coping with and countering discrimination, suicide and HIV and AIDS prevention resources, and more. These resources are doubly important for LGBTQ people who may be isolated, either socially or geographically, and those living at multiple marginalized intersections. The Internet also creates a place to build upon each other's knowledge and experiences -- where hardships and struggles that many have faced can lead to younger generations benefitting from lessons learned.

I'm not sure that the work that GLAAD has done over the past 30+ years -- amplifying the voices and stories of LGBTQ people too often silenced -- would have been possible without net neutrality. Any system that would require sites and content creators to pay for prioritization and visibility ensures that the voices of those who cannot pay to be heard will be extinguished. Getting rid of net neutrality is to put profit over livelihoods of marginalized communities and will only function to keep people ignorant and silent. A nondiscriminatory and neutral Internet has allowed new digital media initiatives, blogs, and platforms for nonprofit organizations to flourish online.

Net neutrality is also crucial to how news and information is disseminated. The news media has been a source of much scrutiny lately -- some of it deserved, some not -- but if ability to pay for visibility becomes the deciding factor in what people read, it can be assured that clarity around facts will be further muddled. We live in a country where free speech and accurate reporting are attacked and called fake news. Net neutrality allows for the truth to be spread so that when marginalized communities are gaslit, they know it.

Without net neutrality, censorship and erasure of the LGBTQ community is not only possible, but inevitable.

At its core this is about freedom of expression. The Internet is the new public forum, the dominant platform for free expression and to remove it is un-American and unconscionable. I urge you to submit a public comment and let the FCC know that net neutrality needs to stay -- lives truly depend on it.

SARAH KATE ELLIS is the president and CEO of GLAAD. Follow her on Twitter @sarahkateellis.
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Sarah Kate Ellis