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The Metaverse Will Not Be a Home for LGBTQ+ Folks, Just Like Instagram

Terry Miller

So my account was disabled by Instagram.

It sucks. I didn’t think this would sting so much. Except as I think about it and how it went down, it falls into a pattern of homophobia, sex-negativity, and discrimination on Meta’s social platforms that has been happening for years. If you are reading this, you’ve probably heard about it before. But it’s time that we — and I mean all of us as individuals within the LGBTQ+ community as well as organizations like the It Gets Better Project, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD — stood against it.

Over the past few years, Meta — the company that owns platforms Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, among others — has developed a reputation for instituting guidelines and enforcement strategies that overpolice various communities. Watching this play out on Instagram, specifically, can be particularly alarming: Posts by straight musical artists and creators that enjoy wide distribution — sometimes even promoted by the platform  — get LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, and sex educators suspended, shadow-banned, disabled or de-platformed for life. 

Since the new year, I’ve personally had more than 20 post removal notifications from Instagram. One post featured me holding a wine bottle where I was accused of violating “guidelines on sale of illegal or regulated goods” like drugs, guns, or explosives. Others featured me in swimsuits or short shorts — sure, the images were sexy, but they certainly weren’t “explicit sexual intercourse,” nor did they depict “stimulation of genitals, anus, uncovered female nipples or breasts” as the flags said.

 

What’s worse: One of the flags came after I posted an old photo to Instagram Stories at Instagram’s own suggestion. In short, the censors and associated algorithms are both silly and insipid, and it comes only as salt in the wound when the company closes out each email with “we use the same guidelines for everyone on Instagram.”

L-O-fucking-L.

A brief tour through posts from cisgender-straight users of Instagram will show you that this is not the case. Ever heard of the Clermont Twins? How many videos of women “simulating sexual activity” to “WAP” do you need to browse? Ever checked out “Gun Instagram”? How many memes of drunk/stoned bros doing something stupid for their iPhone camera? This isn’t to say that those people are wrong; they should be free to do these things, but so should I.

A photo of a swimsuit? Underwear? A wine bottle? On a gay man’s account?

DANGEROUS.

On the anniversary of the day I met my husband, I shared a carousel of 10 photos of us through the last 27 years. That was the day my account was disabled. The irony here would be laughable if it wasn’t also manipulative, malicious, and insidious.

I grew up a very skinny, obviously gay kid in Spokane, Wash. My interests were violin, piano, orchestra, and band, and my lack of attention to “tough guy” subjects led to me being the subject of intense and often violent bullying. One day, in particular, I was chased and pushed into a dirty snowbank and turned up to a piano lesson bloodied and scratched up as a result of the beating. When my mother went to the school the next day to ask the school counselor, who was also a vice principal in charge of discipline, for assistance in holding the bullies accountable, his response shocked her. 

“If he acts that way, walks that way, talks that way, is that way, there’s nothing we can do to stop this,” he replied. 

With Meta, Instagram, and Facebook, the message to queer communities is quite simple: If you exist in ways that we deem  “objectionable,” you are not welcome or safe here.

Meta markets itself and its apps as community builders. They are supposedly where people can find community and connect from across the globe. But time and time again, they have failed at that: breaking hashtags often used by queer and kink communities (#fetish #rubber #leather #kinky #sexpositive #bdsm,) banning Facebook groups they’ve deemed inappropriate, and more. And yet year after year they come all smiles for Pride festivals and pump themselves up as key allies to our community.

But with Meta, Instagram, Facebook, the message to us is quite simple: If you act in ways that we deem “unsavory,” talk in ways we say are “unsafe,“ walk in ways that we consider “inappropriate,” exist in ways that we call  “objectionable,” you are not welcome or safe here. At all. 

We will kick you off, disable you, and delete you. And we will blame you.

This has happened to medical professionals whose practices revolve around sexual health, kinksters, sex workers, and even artists. Accounts getting deleted. Not for sex. Not for anything that violated Instagram’s terms of service from a straightforward reading of those guidelines. But seemingly because of who we are — often queer or trans or sex-positive — in the same ways that others are allowed to. And worse, with no real recourse or path to get reinstated that can be reliably counted on.

As co-creator and cofounder of the It Gets Better Project, I am personally demanding that organizations like It Gets Better Project, HRC, GLAAD, Trevor Project, and more take action end end the pinkwashing of Meta and its subsidiaries as they erase our community from the internet.

When asked about guidelines, Meta and its subsidiaries often point to protecting children who are on their platforms as a driving factor. This is a tactic that’s often been used to defend oppression: in defense of (almost exclusively white) children and women. But there are a million ways this could be addressed, some of which already exist on the platform. Instagram has rolled out consent filters on particularly graphic or violent posts that could theoretically be utilized here as well, in addition to age-verification efforts.

Asking our communities to censor ourselves and dumb ourselves down verbally and visually is discrimination. We didn’t fight for gay liberation, get through the AIDS crisis, Reagan, Bushes 1 and 2, and fucking Donald Trump  to be told to “not act that way.” If Instagram and, by extension, Meta want a vital and inclusive LGBTQ+ community to be part of their platform, they need to stop disabling and deleting things from us that are not breaking rules.

Meta, as I write, is focusing all of its internal energies on becoming “the Metaverse” — whatever the fuck that means. They want the Metaverse to appeal to the broadest demographics possible, and in their view, closing the gates to subcultures and communities Meta sees as undesirable is a cost they don’t mind paying. I can guarantee you this: The Metaverse is not going to be a home for the LGBTQ+ community, sex workers, sex educators, medical doctors working in sexual health fields, or a lot of other communities. It is increasingly apparent as we see who is being targeted by Meta’s algorithmic censors that Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is one big cis-straight mostly male white nationalist party. And that may be its prerogative. But we as a community must reckon with what our response will be. 

As co-creator and cofounder of the It Gets Better Project, I am personally demanding that the organization’s current leadership remove the Facebook: It Gets Better video that its employees made from the It Gets Better website and YouTube channel. You can’t tell LGBTQ+ youth that things will get better and then scrub what you find objectionable about us from your platforms, in the process erasing LGBTQ+ art and history. Furthermore, other groups entrenched in the easy money of the tech corporate world should also demand attention to the erasure of our community on Meta platforms and stop taking their money. I’m talking to you, HRC, GLAAD, Trevor Project; Stop allowing Meta to pinkwash itself out of its anti-queer rhetoric.

If Facebook/Instagram can’t get on board with what actual LGBTQ+ liberation and equality looks like and feels like, if Meta doesn’t stop purging LGBTQ+ people from their platforms, we shouldn’t allow them to show up at Pride events and festivals until these problems are resolved. They deserve nothing but scorn for their part in erasing valuable history, art, artists, thinkers, makers, doers, sex workers/educators, and even influencers.

But hey, if they want to show up I’m happy to start letting some tomatoes rot in my backyard in preparation.

Terry Miller is an award-winning author, advocate, speaker, and ambassador for the Tom of Finland Store. In 2010 he founded the It Gets Better Foundation with his husband, Dan Savage, in response to statistics surrounding the death of LGBTQ+ teens by suicide. 

 

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