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Journal of Technology in Human Services
ISSN: 1522-8835 (Print) 1522-8991 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wths20
LGBTQ+ Youths’ Community Engagement and
Resource Seeking Online versus Offline
Lauren B. McInroy, Rebecca J. McCloskey, Shelley L. Craig & Andrew D. Eaton
To cite this article: Lauren B. McInroy, Rebecca J. McCloskey, Shelley L. Craig & Andrew D.
Eaton (2019): LGBTQ+ Youths’ Community Engagement and Resource Seeking Online versus
Offline, Journal of Technology in Human Services, DOI: 10.1080/15228835.2019.1617823
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/15228835.2019.1617823
Published online: 01 Jun 2019.
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LGBTQþYouths’Community Engagement and
Resource Seeking Online versus Offline
Lauren B. McInroy
, Rebecca J. McCloskey
, Shelley L. Craig
Andrew D. Eaton
The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio;
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
LGBTQþ(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc.) youth
are at increased risk for negative outcomes. Yet little is known
about their engagement with communities and resources that
may ameliorate risk, particularly online. Oriented by a uses
and gratifications approach, this secondary analysis (n¼4,009)
of LGBTQþyouth (aged 14–29) compares online versus offline
experiences. Respondents were significantly more likely to par-
ticipate in LGBTQþcommunities online. Youth were also
more active, and felt safer and more supported, when partici-
pating in online LGBTQ þcommunities. Additionally, respond-
ents sought online information, support, and resources at
higher rates than offline. Increased attention toward online
programming and resource development is warranted.
Received 26 March 2019
Accepted 8 May 2019
LGBTQ; online; Internet;
LGBTQþ(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc.) adolescents and
young adults disproportionately encounter social isolation, family/peer
rejection, and harassment. They also experience increased risk for negative
health and mental health outcomes when compared to their non-LGBTQþ
counterparts, including depression, negative self-image, suicidal ideation
and behavior, substance misuse, and other risk-taking behaviors (Higa
et al., 2014; Hunter, Cohall, Mallon, Moyer, & Riddel, 2006; Prock &
Kennedy, 2017). However, insufficient research has investigated the exist-
ence and format of programming and resources targeted to contemporary
LGBTQþyouth. Research is particularly lacking regarding emergent online
resources and applications (Saewyc, 2011; Wagaman, 2014). Additionally,
little is known about the types of programs and services that LGBTQþ
youth tend to favor (Wagaman, 2014), or the degree of their engagement
in LGBTQþcommunity contexts offline and online (Evans et al., 2017).
This secondary analysis (n¼4,009) of an online survey sample of
CONTACT Lauren B. McInroy email@example.com College of Social Work, The Ohio State University, 325R
Stillman Hall, 1947 College Road, Columbus, OH 43210.
ß2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES
LGBTQþyouth (aged 14–29) compares their engagement with and percep-
tions of a range of offline and online LGBTQþcommunities and activities.
It also explores their access to relevant health information and other
resources in both offline and online contexts. Implications for the future
development and provision of programming and resources tailored to this
population are discussed.
An approach to conceptualizing media consumption, Uses and
Gratifications Theory (UGT) focuses on “why and how people use media”
(Lee, 2013, p. 301). UGT is goal-oriented, positing that people seek, from
amongst the media available to them, content which satisfies their individ-
ual social and psychological needs and wants. Ultimately, people’s media
consumption behaviors are hypothesized to be motivated by the personal
gratification they receive from engaging in those behaviors (Muhammad,
2018; Shade, Kornfield, & Oliver, 2015; Whiting & Williams, 2013).
Originally developed as a theoretical approach to mass communication
(e.g., television, radio), UGT has more recently been applied to online
contexts—such as social media and online gaming (Muhammad, 2018;
Whiting & Williams, 2013; Wu Wang & Tsai, 2010). This online applica-
tion has included a shift toward thinking about participating individuals
as “users,”as opposed to “audience members”(Shade et al., 2015), recog-
nizing the degree to which individuals actively direct their use of
Gratifications are often conceptualized into two broad categories, content
gratifications (i.e., the individual benefits from the information provided in
the content) and process gratifications (i.e., the individual benefits from the
action of utilizing the media; Chen, 2011). Whiting and Williams (2013)
identified 10 uses and gratifications related to social media, including social
interaction, information seeking, and convenience utility—or its accessibil-
ity and ease of use. In addition to gratifying needs and wants, online media
content has been found to motivate individuals to communicate, as well as
socially and emotionally connect with others (Chen, 2011). However, UGT
remains primarily focused upon people’s utilization of media, rather than
the impact of media on the user. It also acknowledges an expectation of
individual variation in the type and degree of media engagement (Shade
et al., 2015). Thus, UGT is appropriate for this investigation, which focuses
on LGBTQþyouths’engagement with online communities, information
and resources (as opposed to offline), while considering how individual
circumstances and preferences may play a role in behavior.
2 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
A recent qualitative study of LGBTQþadolescents in the United States and
Canada inquired about their perceptions of their communities and the
resources available to them (Eisenberg et al., 2018). Interpersonal supports
(e.g., family, friends, peers, and teachers) were identified as the most
important resource. Youth also stated that LGBTQþevents and programs
were additional sources of acceptance and support, and were locations
where they often accessed various services. General resources, activities,
and casual spaces that were welcoming to the LGBTQþcommunity (e.g.,
community centers and student groups) were also mentioned as helpful
and supportive (Eisenberg et al., 2018). However, as with much of the pre-
vious research on LGBTQþyouths’access to resources and supports,
Eisenberg and colleagues’(2018) sample was restricted to those recruited
via LGBTQþorganizations and school-based groups. Thus, participants in
the study already engaged to some degree with offline LGBTQþ
communities and services.
A range of formal and informal health and mental health resources for
LGBTQþyouth exist within school and community settings. These resour-
ces are sometimes identity specific, but may also be open to youth regard-
less of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. For example, Gender
and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs)—also referred to as Gay-Straight
Alliances—are a school-based resource available to many LGBTQþyouth
in the United States (Kosciw, Greytak, Zongrone, Clark, & Truong, 2018).
While there is evidence that GSAs can facilitate safer and more affirming
school contexts for LGBTQþstudents and allies, potentially contributing
to improved psychosocial outcomes and school achievement for LGBTQþ
students (Heck, Flentje, & Cochran, 2011; Kosciw et al., 2018; Seelman,
Forge, Walls, & Bridges, 2015), they may not be designed to provide clin-
ical services or meet complex needs (McInroy & Craig, 2012; Craig,
McInroy, & Austin, 2018).
Further, in 2017 only 53% of LGBTQþstudents reported that their
schools had GSAs, and more than one third (36%) of students reported not
participating in GSAs even if they were available (Kosciw et al., 2018).
Research has demonstrated that GSAs may be particularly ill equipped to
serve gender minority (e.g., transgender and gender diverse) students
(Greytek, Kosciw, & Boesen, 2013), as well as students who simultaneously
possess other marginalized identities (e.g., ethno-racial minorities; Diaz &
Kosciw, 2009; McCready, 2004). To better support LGBTQþyouth,
Kennedy (2013) has recommended collaborative school-community part-
nerships. Together, schools and communities can help create more
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 3
inclusive and accepting offline environments for LGBTQþyouth and their
families, effectively improving mental health and academic success.
However, the exponential growth of the Internet also warrants consider-
ation for emerging opportunities toward the development of accessible pro-
gramming and the effective provision of resources.
While research has to some extent discussed the provision of offline resour-
ces to LGBTQþyouth, very minimal scholarship addresses online resour-
ces for the population. Additionally, comparatively little research exists
concerning LGBTQþyouth who do not have access to school or commu-
nity-based resources and supports—or those who have resources available
but do not utilize them. Not all LGBTQþyouth reside in home and com-
munity contexts which facilitate their ability to access offline resources that
meet their needs. Research continues to demonstrate that LGBTQþyouth
experience disproportionate familial conflict and rejection, school-based
harassment and victimization, and hostile communities which contribute to
elevated rates of psychological distress and reduced overall well-being
(Baams, Dubas, Russell, Buikema, & van Aken, 2018; Higa et al., 2014;
Johns et al., 2018; Russell & Fish, 2016). These difficulties constitute bar-
riers to accessing offline services. Youth in rural areas and in certain
regions of the United States (e.g., midwestern and southern states) also
continue to be more likely to experience hostile climates and less access to
school-based supports (Kosciw et al., 2018).
While school and community-based programs and resources may be
needed and desirable for many LGBTQþyouth, such opportunities may
not be perceived as welcoming, safe, or validating by all individuals and
LGBTQþidentities (Eisenberg et al., 2018; Higa et al., 2014; Maccio &
Ferguson, 2016; Wagaman, 2014). Thus, the potential of online contexts to
support the well-being and community connectedness of LGBTQþyouth
necessitates further investigation. In the United States, LGBTQþyouth
may use the Internet and social media at higher rates than their non-
LGBTQþpeers (GLSEN, 2013; Paradis & Pascoe, 2010). Further, a growing
body of research indicates that LGBTQþyoung people use the Internet to
gather information related to their gender, sexuality, and relationships, as
well as their physical, mental, and sexual health (Paradis & Pascoe, 2010).
They also develop identity-specific community connections online, and
engage with content that validates their unique experiences of being
LGBTQþindividuals. These are activities which may not be possible in
their offline spaces due to contextual constraints and the heightened risk of
identity exposure (Craig & McInroy, 2014; Craig, McInroy, McCready, Di
4 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
Cesare, & Pettaway, 2015; Fox and Ralston, 2016; Kosciw et al., 2018;
Paradis & Pascoe, 2010). For LGBTQþyouth who do not have families
and offline communities who are supportive of their gender and/or sexual
identities, online communities may provide a necessary and validating
space to find information and social support (Higa et al., 2014).
Given that very little is known about LGBTQþyouths’preferences and
resource access in offline and online contexts, additional research is neces-
sary (Wagaman, 2014). In particular, greater understanding of the differences
between LGBTQþyouths’community engagement and resource seeking in
offline compared to online contexts would significantly benefit planning for
future programming and provision of services. This article contributes by
comparing LGBTQþyouths’engagement in and perceptions regarding off-
line and online LGBTQþcommunities and activities, as well as their access-
ing of relevant health information and other resources in offline versus
online contexts. A uses and gratifications approach frames this work, includ-
ing the conceptualization of process and content gratifications. The hypothe-
ses are motivated by our position that LGBTQþyouth may benefit from
engaging with online LGBTQþcontent, particularly utilizing online mecha-
nisms to meet identity-based socialization and information needs given the
significant ongoing barriers they experience to accessing offline support and
resources. Four hypotheses were investigated: (a) that youth would partici-
pate more actively in online LGBTQþcommunities, as compared to offline
LGBTQþcommunities; (b) that online LGBTQþcommunities would be
perceived as safer than offline LGBTQþcommunities; (c) that online
LGBTQþcommunities would be perceived as more supportive than offline
LGBTQþcommunities; and (d) that LGBTQþyouth would access more
identity-related information and resources online, as compared to offline.
The data for these analyses are drawn from Project #Queery, a mixed-
methods online survey of 6,309 LGBTQþadolescents and young adults
residing in every state and province across the United States and Canada.
The online survey took approximately 45 min to complete, and consisted of
a variety of question types (e.g., scale, closed-choice, open-ended). It
focused on respondents’engagement with online technologies and plat-
forms, as well as their health and mental health, identity development, and
community involvement. Respondents included in these analyses
(n¼4,009) are those who completed a series of six scale questions inquir-
ing about their activeness, and perceptions of support and safety, in offline
and online LGBTQþcommunities. Sample questions: “I am active as a
LGBTQþperson in my online LGBTQþcommunity”;“I feel supported as
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 5
a LGBTQþperson in my online LGBTQþcommunity”; and “I feel safe as
a LGBTQþperson in my online LGBTQþcommunity.”
Data were collected March–July 2016. Recruitment was undertaken online,
employing: (a) e-mail-based outreach to agencies serving the population, (b)
outreach and promotion in social media groups and on other online plat-
forms, and (c) paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram. The study was
approved by a University of Toronto Research Ethics Board Protocol (ID
31769). The requirement for parental consent was waived for respondents
under age 18. For this population and study design, seeking parental consent
had the potential to be a greater risk than allowing youth to independently
assent to participate. All respondents (regardless of age) completed an online
consent procedure prior to survey completion. This procedure included ani-
mated videos to reinforce youth comprehension of study goals and the con-
sent process (McInroy, 2017).
A number of survey design and data cleaning techniques were used to
identify dishonest or inauthentic responses. These included asking similar
Table 1. Descriptive statistics (n¼4,009).
American Indian/Canadian First Nations 203 5.10
Asian 193 4.80
Black 149 3.70
Hispanic 320 8.00
Multiracial 288 7.20
White 3,264 81.40
Agender 88 2.20
GenderQueer/GenderFluid 889 22.20
Gender nonbinary/Nonconforming/Independent 1,050 26.20
Man/Male 634 15.80
Trans man/Male 454 13.6
Trans woman/Female 84 2.10
Two-spirit 53 1.30
Woman/Female 1577 39.3
Asexual (Ace) umbrella
Bi umbrellab 981 24.5
Demi umbrellac 88 2.20
Gay 629 15.70
Lesbian 661 16.50
Not sure/Questioning 235 5.90
Queer 991 24.7
Pan umbrellad 1275 31.8
Straight/Heterosexual 58 1.40
Two-spirit 44 1.10
Country of residence
Canada 1,201 30.00
United States 2,747 68.50
Note. Respondants could choose multiple race/ethnicity options.
Asexual, aromantic, gray asexual, etc.
Pansexual, panromantic, pansensual.
6 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
questions (e.g., age and birth year) on separate pages of the survey, and
assessing for consistency in responses (McInroy, 2016). Responses deter-
mined to be inauthentic—as well as multiple responses from the same
individual and responses by individuals who did not meet inclusion crite-
ria—were removed from the final data set. Following their participation,
respondents could enter into a raffle for the chance to win one of a selec-
tion of incentives (e.g., gift cards of various values). A published research
protocol for the Project #Queery online survey is available from Craig et
Respondents ranged in age from 14 to 29 years (M¼18.35; SD ¼3.64). See
Table 1 for the descriptive statistics of the sample. Options for sexual
orientation and gender identity were nonmutually exclusive, and respond-
ents could select all terms that they felt applied to them. With regard to
sexual and romantic orientation, related identities were grouped into
“identity umbrellas”for reporting (e.g., pansexual and panromantic were
included in a “pan umbrella”; bisexual and biromantic were grouped into a
“bi umbrella”; Craig et al., 2017). Respondents were most likely to identify
in the pan umbrella (30.5%), the bi umbrella (24.2%), and/or as queer
(24.7%). For gender identity, respondents were most likely to identify as
woman/female (39.3%), as nonbinary/nonconforming (26.2%) and/or as
genderqueer/genderfluid (19.4%). In all, 48.7% of the sample identified
within the spectrum of transgender or gender nonconforming identities.
Respondents’were predominantly White, non-Hispanic (81.4%). The
majority of respondents resided in the United States (68.5%).
Approximately half of respondents (49.2%) lived in urban settings, though
many lived in suburban (37.9%) and rural (10.8%) communities.
Measurement and analysis
Most items used in these analyses were generated for the Project
#Queery study. The questions on Internet usage and online engagement
were significantly informed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet &
American Life surveys. The items inquiring about the age of accomplishing
various social milestones (e.g., age of first participating in the LGBTQþ
community) were developed from a review of the literature on LGBTQþ
identity development (Rosario et al., 2006; Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter,
2011; Schrimshaw et al., 2006). All measures used in the study are outlined
in Craig et al. (2017). All analyses reported in this article were completed
using the Statistical Pack for the Social Sciences (SPSS) Version 24 (IBM
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 7
Corp., 2016). To examine differences between respondents’online and off-
line experiences, McNemar’s tests and paired t-tests were conducted (Green
& Salkind, 2011). Missing data on questions used in these analyses ranged
from 1.6% to 4.2%. Additionally, due to skip-logic the sample size for the
analysis inquiring about how old respondents were when they first partici-
pated in the LGBTQþcommunity online and offline is 2,454.
Table 2 displays respondents’daily online activity, as well as their participa-
tion in the LGBTQþcommunity offline and online (measured dichotom-
ously; e.g., “have you ever participated in the LGBTQþcommunity
online?”). Nearly half the sample (48.2%) reported spending more than 5 hr
online each day, while only 10.7% spent less than 2 hr online daily. A
McNemar’s test was used to examine respondents’engagement in the
LGBTQþcommunity, and showed that the proportion of respondents who
had ever participated in the LGBTQþcommunity online was significantly
different from the proportion that ever had participated offline, p.000 (2
sided). Hypothesis 1 was supported by these findings. While over two
thirds of the sample had participated at least once in the LGBTQþcom-
munity offline (69%), respondents were significantly more likely to report
they had ever participated in the LGBTQþcommunity online (88.5%).
However, the effect size was small (/¼.19).
Respondents (n¼2,454) were on average 15 years old when they first
participated in the LGBTQþcommunity online (range 7–29, SD ¼2.79),
and were slightly older when they first participated in the LGBTQþcom-
munity offline (range 5–28, M¼15.74, SD ¼2.92). The age difference
between first online and first offline participation was statistically signifi-
cant [t(2453) ¼–13.22, p.000]. The Cohen’s effect size value (d¼–.27)
suggested a small practical significance (see Table 3).
A series of paired samples t-tests were performed to compare online and
offline activity (see Table 3). Items were measured on an 11-point scale,
ranging from 0 to 10 (“not at all”–“very”). Hypotheses 1–3 were supported
by the findings. Respondents indicated that they were more active [t(4008)
¼10.12, p.000], felt more supported [t(4008) ¼26.28, p.000], and
Table 2. Online and offline activity (n¼4,009).
Time spent online daily
<2 hr 430 10.70
2–5 hr 1,648 41.10
>5 hr 1,930 48.10
Participation in the LGBTQ þcommunity
Online 3,546 88.50
Offline 2,766 69.00
8 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
felt safer [t(4008) ¼35.78, p.000] participating in the LGBTQþcom-
munity online versus offline. All results were statistically significant. While
the practical significance for online activity was small (d¼0.16), effect sizes
of respondents’feeling more supported (d¼0.41) and safer (d¼0.56) in
the online LGBTQþcommunity were moderately significant (Green &
One-way between-subjects analyses of variance (ANOVA) tests were per-
formed to compare the effect of average hours spent online daily and
respondents’reports of being active, and feeling supported and safe in the
online LGBTQþcommunity. As expected, results determined that those
who spent more time online on a daily basis were also more active [F(2,
4005) ¼46.61, p.000], felt more supported [F(2, 4005) ¼20.36, p
.000], and felt safer [F(2, 4005) ¼9.71, p.000] online than those who
spent less time online. Post-hoc comparisons using the Bonferroni correc-
tion with an adjusted alpha level of .016 per test (.05/3) indicated that
reports of being active as a LGBTQþperson in the online LGBTQþcom-
munity among those reporting high daily online activity (M¼6.03,
SD ¼3.10) was significantly higher than those reporting average (M¼5.45,
SD ¼3.01) and low (M¼4.54, SD ¼3.03) daily online activity. Additionally,
respondents’reports of feeling more supported as a LGBTQþperson in
their online LGBTQþcommunity when also reporting high daily online
activity (M¼7.48, SD ¼2.72) was significantly higher when compared to
those reporting average (M¼7.14, SD ¼2.76) and low (M¼6.59,
SD ¼3.06) daily online activity. Finally, for respondents reporting high
daily online activity, they were significantly more likely to report feeling
safe as a LGBTQþperson in their online LGBTQþcommunity (M¼7.58,
SD ¼2.62) than those reporting average (M¼7.38, SD ¼2.61) and low
(M¼6.97 SD ¼2.95.04) daily online activity. In other words, more time
spent online was correlated with higher rates of activity in LGBTQþcom-
munities online, as well as increased likelihood of feeling supported and
safe in those online community contexts.
Respondents accessed a variety of identity-based online and offline com-
munity resources and activities (see Table 4). Supporting Hypothesis 4,
Table 3. Characteristics of online versus offline participation in the queer commu-
Online (M) Offline (M)
difference (M)tdfSig. (2-tailed) Cohen’sd
Pair 1a: Age first participated 15.00 15.74 –0.75 –13.22 2,453 0.00 –0.27
: Active 5.56 5.11 0.52 10.12 4,008 0.00 0.16
: Feel supported 7.24 5.90 1.34 26.28 4,008 0.00 0.41
: Feel safe 7.43 5.61 1.82 35.78 4,008 0.00 0.56
aPair 1: n¼2454.
bPair 2 –Pair 4: n¼4009.
cSmall effect size.
dMedium effect size.
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 9
respondents reported accessing more resources and engaging in more activ-
ities online than offline. Notably, while many respondents (64.9%) saw a
mental health counselor or accessed health information offline (47.3%),
respondents were more likely (65.0%) to have accessed health information
online. Large majorities of respondents reported reading LGBTQþnews
websites (76.2%) or consuming LGBTQþblogs or social media sites
(87.1%). Youth also reported high rates of watching LGBTQþTV shows
or movies (86.2%), as well as consuming identity-specific web series or
YouTube channels (79.4%). McNemar’s tests found statistically significant
differences between the proportion of respondents who: (a) accessed sexual
health information online compared to offline (p¼.000), (b) accessed any
health information online compared to offline (p¼.000), and (c) accessed
LGBTQþnews information online compared to offline (p¼.000). In other
words, respondents were significantly more likely to access any health
information (including sexual health information) online versus offline, and
were more likely to consume LGBTQþnews online.
Study respondents were actively engaged on the Internet, with the vast
majority (89.2%) spending at least 2 hours online per day. This finding is
reflective of general youth usage trends. In 2018, 45% of adolescents in the
United States were online “almost constantly,”and 44% were online at least
“several times a day”(Pew Research Center, 2018). As mentioned, research
Table 4. Community resources accessed online and offline (n¼4,009).
Offline/In-person n %
Gay Straight Alliance meeting 2,102 52.4
LGBTQ þdance/prom 933 23.3
LGBTQ þcommunity or drop-in center 898 22.4
LGBTQ þyouth support group 1,200 29.9
LGBTQ þorganization 1,535 38.3
LGBTQ þpride event 2,148 53.6
HIV/STD test 935 23.3
Sexual health information from a clinic or provider 1,424 35.5
Health information from a clinic or provider 1,898 47.3
Saw a mental health counselor 2,602 64.9
Read a LGBTQ þnewspaper or magazine 2,073 51.7
Volunteered for a LGBTQ þorganization 1,026 25.6
Went to a LGBTQ þtalk or speech 1,256 31.3
Participated in a LGBTQ þpolitical campaign 636 15.9
Sexual health information from a website/online 2,535 63.2
Health information from a website/online 2,606 65.0
Read a LGBTQ þnews website 3,055 76.2
Read LGBTQ þblogs and/or social media sites 3,490 87.1
Watched a LGBTQ þTV show or movie 3,456 86.2
Watched a LGBTQ þweb series or YouTube channel 3,183 79.4
Signed a LGBTQ þpetition 2,582 64.4
Note. LGBTQþ¼lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and so forth.
10 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
has also suggested that LGBTQþyouth may use the Internet more fre-
quently than general youth populations (GLSEN, 2013; Paradis & Pascoe,
2010). With regard to community engagement, respondents were more
likely to have participated in the LGBTQþcommunity online than offline.
Respondents also indicated being considerably more active, as well as feel-
ing significantly safer and more supported, when participating in the
LGBTQþcommunity online. The effect sizes for the safety and support
findings were particularly notable. Thus, online community contexts
appeared more conducive to LGBTQþyouth addressing their identity-
specific social needs and desires than offline community contexts
Increasingly, all youth are using the Internet to seek out resources and
information, as well as social support and connections (Pew Research
Center, 2018). Online spaces have also been found to facilitate the connect-
edness of LGBTQþyouth in particular, especially those with limited
opportunities for peer support in offline contexts (Higa et al., 2014). As
discussed, LGBTQþyouth often experience substantial risks and barriers
to accessing existent identity-based supports and resources, including not
feeling comfortable or safe doing so (Craig & McInroy, 2014; Craig et al.,
2015; Higa et al., 2014; Kosciw et al., 2018; Paradis & Pascoe, 2010;
Wagaman, 2014). Additionally, needed services may simply not exist or
otherwise be inaccessible (e.g., transit barriers; Ballard, Jameson, & Martz,
2017; Kosciw et al., 2018). Respondents in this study were geographically
dispersed, with many located in suburban (37.9%) and rural (10.8%) com-
munities. As one of the identified uses and gratifications of online plat-
forms is the relative convenience utility, including greater accessibility and
easier communication (Whiting & Williams, 2013), the findings of this
study reinforce qualitative research which has begun to identify the import-
ance of online communities for LGBTQþyouth. Emerging research indi-
cates that LGBTQþyouth use the Internet to engage in identity
development activities, access role models, and build community connect-
edness in comparatively lower risk (e.g., safer and more anonymous) and
easier-to-access contexts (Craig & McInroy, 2014).
Respondents were also significantly more engaged with LGBTQþonline
resources and sources of information, as compared to offline. Another
identified use of online platforms in UGT is for information-seeking,
including self-directed learning (Whiting & Williams, 2013). Nearly two
thirds (65.0%) of respondents had accessed health information online. By
comparison, only slightly over one third (35.5%) had accessed health infor-
mation offline. Many LGBTQþyouth, even those with supportive families
or communities, experience particularly challenging barriers to offline
health and mental health services. Logistical concerns (e.g., navigating
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 11
systems) and practical care concerns (e.g., lack of LGBTQþprotocols or
trained professionals) contribute to poor offline experiences with health
and mental health systems, which may cause LGBTQþindividuals to delay
or avoid accessing necessary care (Craig et al., 2015; Gridley et al., 2016).
With regard to accessing identity-based information more generally, three-
quarters (76.2%) of respondents had accessed LGBTQþnews websites.
Many also engaged with other forms of LGBTQþmedia online. These
findings are consistent with research which has identified a rapid growth in
digital news access among the general U.S. population, alongside concerns
about the accuracy of the content (Bialik & Matsa, 2017; Matsa &
The accuracy (or lack thereof) of online media and health resources
requires further attention from human services organizations and social
work practitioners serving LGBTQþpopulations. It is likely that LGBTQþ
youth will continue to consume online resources at higher rates than off-
line, yet virtually nothing is known about the quality of the resources they
are accessing. Alarms have been raised in the current climate about
inaccurate news and information online, and its social and political conse-
quences (Vosoughi, Roy, & Aral, 2018). Similarly, while seeking health
information online has increased amongst the general population in recent
years, significant concerns exist about incorrect, incomplete, and unverified
content (Diviani, van den Putte, Giani, & van Weert, 2015). There are
undoubtedly important gratifications to accessing online health resources,
such as social support. However, consuming inaccurate health information
online has the potential to lead to “ill-informed health decision making”
(Jiang & Street, 2017, p. 1024) which can limit the usefulness of the infor-
mation provided and contribute to poorer health-related outcomes. Taken
together, opportunities to foster safer and more accessible contexts of com-
munity engagement and social support for LGBTQþyouth, as well as to
engage in the development of accurate, evidence-based resources and serv-
ices, necessitate consideration by human service organizations and individ-
Implications for practice
The Internet may play an increasingly important intermediary role in facili-
tating a connection to offline resources for LGBTQþyouth (DeHaan et al.,
2013). Many diverse LGBTQþyoung people use the Internet to garner infor-
mation about inclusive health and mental health services and providers,
which they may subsequently visit offline (DeHaan et al., 2013; Evans et al.,
2017). In offline contexts, community resources that use symbolic cues (e.g.,
rainbow flags and all-gender bathrooms) have been cited as particularly
12 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
important in demonstrating a commitment toward acceptance of LGBTQþ
populations (Craig et al., 2015; Eisenberg et al., 2018). It is important for
human service organizations and individual service providers to consider
strategies for communicating that same commitment in their online spaces.
For example, organizations seeking to demonstrate that they welcome
LGBTQþyouth could add symbols (e.g., rainbow flags and pictures of same-
sex couples) to their websites and social media. They could also provide and
highlight relevant information and resources related to LGBTQþhealth and
mental health (Evans et al., 2017; Miller, 2017). Individual providers could
also be encouraged by their organizations to consider adding preferred pro-
nouns after their name and credentials on websites and in e-mail signatures
(or take initiative themselves, if in private practice). Organizations and pro-
viders may also advertise in their online spaces if their offices and clinics
have LGBTQþaffirmative practices, policies, and physical spaces (Craig
et al., 2015; Eisenberg et al., 2018; Evans et al., 2017).
However, in addition to offline organizations making their online spaces
more LGBTQþaffirmative and providing specific digital information and
resources, human service organizations should also seriously consider the
potential of the Internet for actual service provision in the form of more com-
plex resources and programming. Such services would hypothetically be bene-
ficial for individuals who are not able to access offline services, or who choose
not to access offline services due to identity-based barriers (McInroy, Craig,
& Leung, 2018; Mustanski et al., 2015). While a small number of online pro-
grams and e-therapies for LGBTQþyouth are being developed and eval-
uated—such as Rainbow SPARX (Lucassen, Merry, Hatcher, & Frampton,
2015), QueerViBE (Martin, 2019), and Project Youth AFFIRM (Craig et al.,
2019)—there are significant opportunities for the growth of evidence-based
online programs. Recent qualitative research has found that LGBTQþyouth
indicate an interest in identity-specific e-therapies, provided that program-
ming is delivered in a format which is contemporarily relevant, engaging, and
sufficiently meets their needs (Lucassen et al., 2018). Additionally, profes-
sional trainings and online certificate programs for providers are emerging,
either focusing on or incorporating concerns related to LGBTQþhealth and
mental health (e.g., the National LGBT Health Education Center, Kognito for
suicide prevention; Rein et al., 2018). However, research on the efficacy of
such trainings and programs remains almost nonexistent.
There are ongoing limitations to online resources and service provision
which should also be considered. For example, unsupportive parents may
prevent youth from accessing information and support online, out of fear
that their parents would disapprove or find out about their LGBTQþiden-
tity if they were to access that information (Mehus, Watson, Eisenberg,
Corliss, & Porta, 2017). Ongoing inequities in access to technology and the
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 13
Internet for certain populations and in particular geographic contexts (e.g.,
high-speed broadband access in rural areas) may also limit the accessibility
of online resources and services (McInroy, Craig, & Leung, 2018). Finally, as
mentioned, it can be challenging to distinguish misinformation from accur-
ate content in online contexts (Diviani et al., 2015; Higa et al., 2014). Thus,
organizations and providers should pay careful attention to ensuring that the
resources and programming they do provide are evidence-based, as well as
cite (or even link to) sources as much as possible to demonstrate accuracy to
potential consumers. Further, professional associations and organizations
serving LGBTQþyouth could potentially collaborate to develop a broader
presence online, as well as theoretically create better resources and specialty
certifications for professionals who have expertise in providing services to
LGBTQþyouth (Evans et al., 2017).
This study consisted of a sample recruited primarily through online path-
ways, resulting in a potential tendency among respondents to prefer online
engagement. The perspectives of the many LGBTQþyouth who have limited
Internet access may remain underrepresented in this research. Additionally,
respondents included in these analyses were required to answer a series of
six questions on offline and online experiences and perceptions of the
LGBTQþcommunity, which resulted in a sample with at least some famil-
iarity with both community contexts. With regard to UGT, further research
is necessary investigate the “why”of LGBTQþyouths’online activities, and
to establish a nuanced understanding of the specific needs and gratifications
causing youth to make greater use of online LGBTQþcommunities, infor-
mation, and resources compared to offline (Chen, 2011; Lee, 2013).
Additionally, UGT is limited in that it does not focus on the impacts of
media on users (Shade et al., 2015). Future research utilizing other theoretical
frameworks should subsequently address how online versus offline commu-
nity engagement and activities may differentially impact LGBTQþyouth.
This study employs UGT to provide new information regarding LGBTQþado-
lescents’and young adults’engagement with and perceptions of offline versus
online LGBTQþcommunities, as well as their accessing of resources and
information in offline and online contexts. Results demonstrate that LGBTQþ
youth are more active online, and feel safer and more supported in online com-
munity spaces, as compared to offline. They are also more likely to access
health information and LGBTQþnews online, and indicate lower levels of
14 L. B. MCINROY ET AL.
engagement with offline LGBTQþsupports (e.g., GSAs and support groups).
The potential development of online programming and resources for this
population warrants increased attention by human service organizations and
providers. Further, ongoing research is greatly needed to understand the
impacts of online versus offline participation by LGBTQþyouth, as well as the
feasibility, desirability and effectiveness of conducting LGBTQþspecific
The authors wish to express their gratitude for the generosity of the study participants.
The authors have no financial interests of benefits to disclose.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada under Grants #475-2015-0780 and #895-2018-1000. Shelley Craig is the Canada
Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Youth. Andrew Eaton is supported by a sal-
ary award from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN).
Notes on contributors
Lauren B. McInroy is an Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work at The Ohio
State University. Dr. McInroy’s research investigates the impacts of information and com-
munication technologies (ICTs) on the well-being of marginalized adolescents and emerg-
ing adults—particularly LGBTQþyoung people. She explores how LGBTQþyouth build
communities of support, engage in identity development activities, foster resilience and
well-being, and engage in advocacy using digital technologies.
Rebecca J. McCloskey is a PhD Candidate in the College of Social Work at The Ohio State
University. As a licensed social worker since 2002, she has worked with children, their fami-
lies, and perinatal women via case management, advocacy, and counseling services. Prior to
the PhD program, she was a clinical professor in Monmouth University’s School of Social
Work. Her dissertation investigates links between adverse childhood experiences and postpar-
tum depression, anxiety, physical health, and breastfeeding challenges as well as the potential
role of social support, material hardship, and discrimination in moderating these associations.
Shelley L. Craig is a Professor in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the
University of Toronto, and the Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority
Youth. Dr. Craig’s research focuses on the social determinants of health and mental health
and the impact of the service delivery system on vulnerable populations. Her primary spe-
cializations are: (a) the needs of LGBTQ þyouth and subsequent program development
and service delivery, (b) the roles and interventions used by health social workers to impact
the social determinants of health, and (c) developing competent social work practitioners
through effective social work education.
JOURNAL OF TECHNOLOGY IN HUMAN SERVICES 15
Andrew D. Eaton is a PhD Candidate and Research Director in the Factor-Inwentash
Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. His thesis project is a community-
informed pilot trial to determine feasible group therapy for people aging with HIV-
Associated Neurocognitive Disorder (HAND).
Lauren B. McInroy http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5426-5782
Rebecca J. McCloskey http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9371-5002
Shelley L. Craig http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7991-7764
Andrew D. Eaton http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1331-1222
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