In a recent study released by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, nearly three times the amount of LGBT youth respondents — and particularly those in rural areas — reported bullying and harassment online, as compared to their non-LGBT peers (42 percent of LGBT youth versus 15 percent of straight, cisgender youth). In addition, LGBT youth were twice as likely to report being harassed via text message.
Billed as the first study to deeply explore the Internet experiences of LGBT youth, Out Online: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet drew on a national survey of 5,680 students in middle and high school.
Reported effects of bullying included lowered self-esteem, higher likelihood of depression, and lowered grade point averages. But while the Internet exposed respondents to more harassment, users also reported increased peer support, access to health information, and opportunities for civic engagement.
"The Internet does not serve to simply reinforce the negative dynamics found offline regarding bullying and harassment," said Michelle Ybarra, the president and research director of the Center for Innovative Health Research, in a statement. "Rather, this technology also offers LGBT youth critical tools for coping with these negative experiences."
The study found LGBT youth nearly twice as likely to research medical information online (81 percent of LGBT youth vs. 46 percent of non-LGBT youth), with transgender youth proving particularly proactive. Half reported having at least one close friend online, as compared to only 19 percent of their non-LGBT peers who said they had at least one close friend online.