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Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY) often lack support to navigate their minority identities and elevated psychosocial risks. When their offline environment presents challenges to wellbeing, many SGMY turn to internet-enabled information and communication technologies (ICTs) to develop identities, cope with daily stressors, and access support. However, online environments also contain negativity, including comments which display anti-sexual and gender minority (SGM) biases. Such content differs from cyberbullying, which is typically intentional and perpetrated by offline peers. It is critical to understand how SGMY cope with negative comments online, as these interactions may threaten important contexts of coping and resilience. This grounded theory and integrative mixed methods study explored the online experiences of SGMY from the United States and Canada (n = 5,243), to identify the range and influence of negative comments on their coping strategies. Participants were primarily adolescents (M = 18.22, SD = 3.61), pansexual, (30.1%, n = 1,576), and cis female, (41.1%, n = 2,592). Open, axial, and selective coding were employed to generate seven themes: appraising, avoiding, responding, adaptive coping, maladaptive coping, impacting wellbeing, and a non-issue; resulting in a model of how SGMY cope with negative comments online. Findings highlight the complex ways that SGMY deal with online negativity. Considerations for research and practice are provided.
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Psychology & Sexuality
ISSN: 1941-9899 (Print) 1941-9902 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpse20
Navigating negativity: a grounded theory and
integrative mixed methods investigation of how
sexual and gender minority youth cope with
negative comments online
Shelley L. Craig, Andrew D. Eaton, Lauren B. McInroy, Sandra A. D’Souza,
Sreedevi Krishnan, Gordon A. Wells, Lloyd Twum-Siaw & Vivian W. Y. Leung
To cite this article: Shelley L. Craig, Andrew D. Eaton, Lauren B. McInroy, Sandra A. D’Souza,
Sreedevi Krishnan, Gordon A. Wells, Lloyd Twum-Siaw & Vivian W. Y. Leung (2019): Navigating
negativity: a grounded theory and integrative mixed methods investigation of how sexual and
gender minority youth cope with negative comments online, Psychology & Sexuality, DOI:
10.1080/19419899.2019.1665575
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2019.1665575
Accepted author version posted online: 06
Sep 2019.
Published online: 11 Sep 2019.
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Navigating negativity: a grounded theory and integrative mixed
methods investigation of how sexual and gender minority youth
cope with negative comments online
Shelley L. Craig
a
, Andrew D. Eaton
a
, Lauren B. McInroy
b
, Sandra A. DSouza
a
,
Sreedevi Krishnan
a
, Gordon A. Wells
a
, Lloyd Twum-Siaw
a
and Vivian W. Y. Leung
a
a
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada;
b
College of Social Work, The
Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
ABSTRACT
Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY) often lack support to navigate
their minority identities and elevated psychosocial risks. When their o-
line environment presents challenges to wellbeing, many SGMY turn to
internet-enabled information and communication technologies (ICTs) to
develop identities, cope with daily stressors, and access support.
However, online environments also contain negativity, including com-
ments which display anti-sexual and gender minority (SGM) biases. Such
content diers from cyberbullying, which is typically intentional and
perpetrated by oine peers. It is critical to understand how SGMY
cope with negative comments online, as these interactions may threaten
resilience. This grounded theory and integrative mixed methods study
explored the online experiences of SGMY from the United States and
Canada (n = 5,243), to identify the range and inuence of negative
comments. Participants were primarily adolescents (M = 18.22,
SD = 3.61), pansexual, (30.1%, n = 1,576), and cis female, (41.1%, n
= 2,592). Open, axial, and selective coding were employed to generate
seven themes: appraising, avoiding, responding, adaptive coping, mala-
daptive coping, impacting wellbeing, and a non-issue; resulting in a
model of how SGMY cope with negative comments. Findings highlight
the complex ways that SGMY deal with online negativity. Considerations
for research and practice are provided.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 26 March 2019
Accepted 4 September 2019
KEYWORDS
Lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and queer
youth; grounded theory;
social media; online
negativity and
microaggressions; coping
Background
Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY) are typically conceptualised as adolescents and young
adults (ages 1429) who identify within a mutable spectrum of marginalised sexual (e.g. lesbian,
gay, bisexual, queer) and/or gender (e.g. transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming) iden-
tities (Craig et al., 2017). SGMY often face challenging developmental trajectories (Ueno, 2005). This
is exemplied by their elevated risk of familial rejection, social exclusion, and other external
stressors (Berlan, Corliss, Field, Goodman, & Austin, 2010; Russell & Fish, 2016). SGMY are also at
greater risk of poor mental health outcomes, such as depression, stress and suicide, and frequently
lack support navigating their minority identities and psychosocial risk factors (Martin-Storey &
Crosnoe, 2012; McElroy, Wintemberg, Cronk, & Everett, 2015; Tomicic et al., 2016). When oine
environments (e.g. home, school) challenge their wellbeing, SGMY increasingly turn to internet-
CONTACT Shelley L. Craig shelley.craig@utoronto.ca Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto,
246 Bloor St, Toronto, ON M5S1V4, Canada
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY
https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2019.1665575
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
enabled information and communication technologies (ICTs) to cope with daily stressors, explore
their emerging sexual and/or gender minority (SGM) identities, engage with SGM communities,
and develop supportive interpersonal relationships (Cho, 2018; Craig & McInroy, 2014; Shoveller,
Knight, Davis, Gilbert, & Ogilvie, 2012).
Information and communication technologies (ICTs)
Nearly all youth in the United States and Canada are online, and large majorities utilise mobile
ICTs such as smartphones and tablets (Anderson & Jiang, 2018; Craig, Austin, & Huang, 2018; Pew
Research Center, 2018; Statistics Canada, n.d.). Sparse extant research indicates that SGMY may
participate more actively online than their non-SGMY peers, and experience particular benets
from that participation (Cho, 2018; Craig & McInroy, 2014; GLSEN, 2013). Yet, they may simulta-
neously experience more online diculties, such as harassment and cyberbullying (GLSEN, 2013).
A systematic review identied that SGMY experience elevated risks of cyberbullying, with esti-
mates ranging as high as 71% (Abreu & Kenny, 2018). Some sub-populations of SGMY may be
particularly vulnerable, including transgender and bisexual youth. SGMY are also less likely to
seek help when experiencing cyberbullying, potentially due to the risk of SGM identity exposure,
concerns about being blamed for their victimisation, and less access to social supports due to
their SGM status (Abreu & Kenny, 2018). Cyberbullying has been identied as one of the most
signicant forms of discrimination encountered by SGMY, and the consequences of such victi-
misation include psychological issues (e.g. suicidal ideation and behaviour, depression), as well as
behavioural and social concerns (e.g. isolation, physical conicts with peers, poor academic
performance) (Abreu & Kenny, 2018).
It is important to recognise that cyberbullying is a distinct and overt form of ICT aggression,
which is typically directed towards an individual (Varjas, Meyers, Kiperman, & Howard, 2013).
Cyberbullying, for example, is characteristically intentional . . . [occurs] in the context of
a relationship, and . . . [comprises] a power imbalance(Mishna et al., 2016, p. 2) between the
perpetrator and victim. It is also repetitive and often carries over to a victimsoine context (e.g.,
cyberbullying by a school peer) (Mishna et al., 2016). Yet online spaces contain other types of
negativity towards minority groups to which SGMY are inevitably exposed (Robinson-Wood et al.,
2018), but upon which research has not suciently focused including negative or anti-SGM
online comments.
Negative comments online
ICTs have resulted in virtually unlimited access for individuals to share personal knowledge and
perspectives. However, despite the many constructive opportunities for voicing ones opinions via
ICTs, negative comments online are also a persistent and far-reaching concern (Chen & Ng, 2016).
Negativity expressed towards minority groups online may include (but is not limited to) epithets,
intentional misinformation regarding minorities, caricatures of minorities in online media, and
disparagement of minority individuals or communities (Robinson-Wood et al., 2018; Williams,
Oliver, Aumer, & Meyers, 2016). The presence SGM-specic online negativity has only been
preliminarily explored in the scholarly literature, and research has not addressed the particular
experiences of SGMY when encountering such content.
Due to the anonymity aorded by ICTs (i.e. the absence of face-to-face interactions), people
have increasingly utilised technology to send negative comments without responsibility or
accountability (Schneider, ODonnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012; Varjas et al., 2013). A study examining
the psychological motives behind negative comments found several motivations for this behaviour
among perpetrators, including social distance, the perception that their opinion is inuential, and
a drive to further enhance ones own thoughts and beliefs (Chen & Ng, 2016). Social distance in
particular dened as the perceived gap between oneself and the distant, targeted group based
on beliefs has been found to be the most motivating (Chen & Ng, 2016). Negative comments may
2S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
be produced through an echo chamberwhere a dissenting voice among those with similarly-held
beliefs face harassment and threats (Artime, 2016). Despite the potential wellbeing risks that online
negativity could pose to SGMY, given the deleterious impact of overt forms of online victimisation,
such as cyberbullying (Abreu & Kenny, 2018), there is a paucity of research on how SGMY cope with
negative comments online that are related to SGMs.
Theoretical frameworks
Our exploration and analyses were informed by theories of minority stress, coping, and resilience.
Minority stress provides a framework to understand how SGMY experience online negativity
(Marshal et al., 2011). Marginalised populations face unique, chronic stressors due to conict
between their internal sense of self and majority social norms (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Meyer,
2003). As mentioned, SGMY experience signicant internal and external oine stressors as a result
of their SGM status, and typically do not anticipate familial or community support resulting in
diculty learning identity-specic stress management strategies (Brooks, 1981; DiPlacido, 1998;
Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009). If online environments are seen as safer alternatives for
engaging in identity exploration and reconciliation, but negative comments persist, a key source of
refuge and support may be compromised for SGMY thus putting them at greater risk for adverse
outcomes (Craig & McInroy, 2014; Robinson-Wood et al., 2018).
SGMY attempt to mitigate these disproportionate stressors through coping (Craig et al., 2018).
Coping is both a process (i.e. specic activities used to manage stress) and a theory through
which to understand how SGMY navigate online negativity. Coping can be adaptive when
enhancing wellbeing and maladaptive when avoiding one risk causes another risk (Thompson
et al., 2010); this conceptualisation of coping responses has been validated with youth (Miller,
Lloyd, & Beard, 2017). Adaptive coping with stigma-related stress can be identied through
engagement (e.g. responding to negativity) and maladaptive coping through disengagement
(e.g. avoiding negative spaces) (Miller & Kaiser, 2001). Engagement coping leads to a greater
sense of control for youth, while disengagement coping leads to diculties such as heightened
depressive symptoms (Evans et al., 2015). By coping eectively with stressful situations, SGMY
build resilience (McDavitt et al., 2008).
Resilience is the ability to adapt constructively to risk exposure, including the avoidance of
threats to wellbeing (Mustanski, Newcomb, & Garofalo, 2011). Despite disproportionate stressors,
SGMY may demonstrate resilience (e.g. overcoming adversity, educating people who harass them)
when they encounter negativity in their online spaces (Craig, Austin, Alessi, McInroy, & Keane,
2017). By considering how the responses of SGMY to online negativity can intersect as both
a stressor and a resilience-enhancer, a more fulsome conceptualisation of how SGMY cope with
online negativity may emerge.
Research questions
As demonstrated above, there remains a research gap on (1) SGMYs experience of navigating
negative comments online; and (2) the impact such comments have on their wellbeing. These
two elements are important to better understand, as online negativity may threaten a critical
source of SGMYs identity development, coping, and resilience (Cho, 2018; Craig & McInroy,
2014; Shoveller et al., 2012). Thus, this mixed-methods study of a large survey sample was
designed to answer the following questions: (1) How do SGMY in the US and Canada navigate
and cope with negative comments online? (2) What is the impact of negative comments online
on the wellbeing of SGMY?
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 3
Methods
Participants and procedure
This sample is drawn from a mixed methods, cross-sectional online survey of SGMY (n = 6,309) collected
via Qualtrics survey software from March July 2016. The protocol of the study is published elsewhere,
and includes specic details on the consent process for minors (Craig et al., 2017). Eligible participants:
(a) were aged 1429; (b) self-identied as SGMY; and (c) were residents of the US or Canada.
Recruitment consisted of online (e.g. social media) and oine (e.g., yers) strategies targeted to
important venues for SGMY. Participants were compensated via a rae for e-gift cards. This study
was approved by the [ethics board blinded for peer review] [protocol number blinded for peer review].
This paper reports on a sub-sample (n = 5,243) who answered an optional, open-ended
question: How do you deal with negativity (mean comments) online?The sub-sample resided
primarily in the US (68.2%, n = 4,300), with an average age of 18.22 (SD = 3.61). Participants
identied their sexualities and genders using a range of identities within the SGM spectrum.
Prevalent sexualities included pansexual (30.1%), bisexual (26.2%), and queer (21.1%). Prevalent
gender identities included cis female (41.1%), non-binary (23.9%), and genderqueer (19.5%). Refer
to Table 1 for all sexualities and gender identities, as well additional demographics. All demo-
graphic categories were non-mutually exclusive.
Positionality and reexivity
The research team represents a range of genders, sexualities, ethno-racial identities, and degrees of
research training. Previous clinical and research experience contributed to assumptions that SGMY
Table 1. Participant characteristics (n = 5,243).
Characteristic N (%)
Sexuality
Pansexual 1,576 (30.1%)
Bisexual 1,373 (26.2%)
Queer 1,106 (21.1%)
Lesbian 832 (15.9%)
Gay 814 (15.5%)
Asexual 625 (11.9%)
Not sure/questioning 319 (6.1%)
Demisexual 104 (2.0%)
Straight 103, 2.0%)
Gender Identity
Cis female 2,592 (41.1%)
Non-binary 1,506 (23.9%)
Genderqueer 1,229 (19.5%)
Cis male 1,080 (17.1%)
Trans male 781 (12.4%)
Trans female 143 (2.3%)
Agender 115 (1.8%)
Two-spirit 90 (1.4%)
Ethnicity
Caucasian 5,209 (79.6%)
Hispanic 520 (8.2%)
Mixed Race 461 (7.3%)
Indigenous 335 (5.3%)
Asian 324 (5.1%)
Black 265 (4.2%)
Middle Eastern 66 (1.0%)
Online Use
> 5 hours/day 2,392 (46.5%)
2-5 hours/day 2,553 (40.5%)
< 2hours/day 722 (11.4%)
4S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
experience negativity online and utilise a range of strategies to navigate such challenges. The
research team worked to explore and reect upon how positionality (e.g. queer, female), experi-
ences with ICTs (e.g. social media, other web-based platforms), and prior clinical experience (e.g.
with SGMY) may have impacted the interpretation of ndings.
Data analysis
Grounded theory was used to analyse the data, and ultimately generate a model to describe how
SGMY navigate online negativity (Charmaz, 2014). To fully explore and understand the volume of
data, an integrative mixed-methods approach was utilised in which qualitative themes were also
quantitized.
Rationale
In contrast to a purely qualitative analysis, which could have limited coding at the point of
theoretical saturation (as responses varied in length and depth), the integrative analysis allowed
for a more holistic interpretation of the data (Meixner & Hathcoat, 2018). Such precise description
can conrm the legitimacy of the single method ndings deepening and enriching the analysis
by explaining multiple aspects of a theory and generate new ndings by exploring similarities
and contradictions that arise from multiple sources of data (Daley & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Rossman
& Wilson, 1985). This conceptual approach used investigator, theoretical, and methodological
triangulation to create a type of ontological synthesis, integrating an interwoven pattern of results
into a comprehensive picture of interconnected phenomena (Pawson, 1995).
Initial coding
A large coding team was utilised to code each response three times. All text responses to the open-
ended question were integrated into a single dataset and then divided into six smaller datasets of
~875 responses, each assigned to three coders. The average length of each response was 14.2
words. The coding process began by the eight authors (independent coders) reading all responses
in their assigned datasets to initiate understanding of participantsexperiences. Each coder then
independently coded, using open and line-by-line coding, and constant comparison within and
across data (Charmaz, 2014). Subsequent focused coding enabled implicit concepts to become
more explicit (Charmaz, 2014).
Theme development
Grounding the analyses in the data led to identication and ordering of codes, the generation of
categories, and the subsequent development of larger analytical concepts (Charmaz, 2014).
Sensitising concepts broad constructs that provide guidance for coding (Charmaz, 2014; Lo,
2014)were undertaken for coping (Miller & Kaiser, 2001) and resilience (Ungar, 2012), and
facilitated the development of key themes. Initial analysis was conducted to explore patterns in
the data. Consensus was determined over four research meetings of three hours in length, where
the team discussed how to consolidate and categorise emerging codes into themes and sub-
themes.
Quantifying data
A concurrent mixed methods analysis using a data transformation design was then conducted to
mine and protect the integrity of the rich qualitative data (Daley & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). This
integrative analytic process is only possible after a robust qualitative analysis reveals emergent
themes. The themes were quantitized (transforming qualitative data to a numerical form) to
enhance the mono-method quantitative and qualitative results. For each qualitative response,
coders identied a primary code as 2ʹ, any number of present but secondary themes as 1ʹ, and
absent themes as 0ʹ(Cresswell, Fetters & Ivankova, 2004).
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 5
Validation and reliability strategies
The use of thick description, triangulation with quantitative data, the research teamsexperi-
ence with qualitative research and SGMY, and the use of an audit trail supported trustworthi-
ness (Lincoln & Guba, 1985); member checking is not possible in anonymous survey research
(Levitt, Motulsky, Wertz, Morrow, & Ponterotto, 2017). Interrater reliability was 0.882, as calcu-
lated by the average of the Fleisskappa scores of agreement for all of the themes. Such a high
level of agreement with eight coders may be attributed to the frequency and length of coding
team meetings. Notes, memos, and feedback from the coders were referenced throughout data
analysis to conrm themes and to validate interpretations of participantsexperience.
Seventeen sub-themes are clustered under seven broader themes that describe how SGMY deal
with negative comments online. Refer to Table 2 for themes, sub-themes, brief theme descriptions,
and sample quotes. Unique identiers (such as P1854) are used throughout in addition to age,
sexuality, and gender identity. This section details each theme and sub-theme, and concludes with
an emerging model of how these ndings t together into a sequence of dealing with negative
comments online.
Refer to Table 3 for the sub-theme frequencies, including both the primary code frequency and
the overall code frequency for each sub-theme.
Theme 1: appraising
Participants report that after having received a negative comment, and in some cases before even
going online (i.e. proactively), they appraise the context of the negativity and their own capacity to
respond to the comment. This appraisal appears to lead to their decision as to whether the
negative comment is a problem or not, and subsequently to how they address the problem (i.e.
with avoidance or with a response).
Sub-theme 1.1: appraising situation
The situational context informs how participants deal with online negativity. As a participant
explains If its someone I know I tend to talk to them about it. Ask them why they would say
such a thing. If its a stranger I ignore them because they dont know me or my life(P981, age 14,
pansexual, non-binary). Discernment of whether a friend is being ignorant or a stranger is
deliberately being discriminatory is found in numerous responses. Where the comment is posted
also helps participants determine their response:
If the site has a closed community (e.g. Facebook) or I have a smaller circle of inuence,
I keep my privacy settings tight and keep to topic-relevant posts. (For example, my Twitter is mostly for work
purposes, so I keep entertainment posts on other sites.) On sites with a larger sphere of inuence or number of
followers, or a more active, heated community (e.g. Tumblr) I keep my personal identity private and avoid
posting about incendiary topics. Even if I do use those sites to consume information on current events or
queer/social justice discourse, I dont usually use those platforms to express my own thoughts (P733, age 18,
bisexual, cisfemale).
Participants are simultaneously evaluating a variety of factors in their situational appraisal, includ-
ing perpetrator/victim identity (if known), and their relationship. Participants also assess the culture
and norms of the site where the negativity occurs, and their individual presence (or purpose) and
inuence (or perceived power) on the platform.
Sub-theme 1.2: appraising self
Participants determine their individual capacity to respond to the negative comment before
deciding how to proceed. One person says: I often log oor ignore it. If I am feeling up to it on
that day I may speak up/post/comment something but typically only if its to support someone else
whos being targeted. Im not personally targeted all that often, its happened, but seldom(P5893,
6S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
Table 2. Themes, sub-themes, descriptions, and sample quotes.
Theme Sub-theme Description Sample quote
Appraising Appraising situation Determine if situation and person are worth
responding to
When it is a friend and I think they are being negative because they do not
understand something I will try and say something to them(P5967)
Appraising self Judge own capacity to decide if up to responding I either ignore them or go oon people, depending on my mood that day
(P1175)
Avoiding Ignoring comments Ignore online negativity Just ignore them(P925)
Behavioural avoidance Skimming/glancing; trying not to put self
in situation; avoid toxic online environments
Ive just learned where not to look so I dont see the mean comments so much
(P1817)
Sidetracking Go to a dierent website, nd a distraction I dont answer them but simply go to something funny to get over any anger
(P5631)
Responding Fighting back Argue against negative comments I usually will ght back with the best argument I have(P3120)
Educating Use information or data to respond Fight the hate with love, try to reason with the person(P2463)
Using platform features Use social media features to block and report
negativity
Recently I was directly attacked for my sexuality on Instagram. I reported the
comment(P1894)
Adaptive
coping
Preventing negativity Choose friends and sites carefully; make account
hidden to public
I dont share personal information that could potentially lead to negative
comments(P1079)
Seeking and providing support Asking for help and oering help I chat with others in my shoes. By talking to other people like me, I feel better
(P1151)
Reecting and reframing Acknowledge situation as a learning experience Take constructive criticism(P3126)
Maladaptive
coping
Self harming Harm against oneself I normally cry and cut myself if I get upset enough(P3664)
Freezing Unable to respond or cope I dont deal with it very well. Being emotionally unstable is hard. I either feel
nothing or I feel it at a 100%(P1026)
Impacting
wellbeing
Building resilience Feeling stronger after encountering online negativity [Now] I just ignore the hate and realize how strong and great I really am(P2472)
Feeling distressed Feel worried I end up crying and shutting myself away(P3228)
Feeling tired Feel fatigue Im too tired now. I just click away and try to forget about it(P1080)
Non-issue
(negative
case)
Dont get negative comments Dont experience online negativity Ive never really received any negative comments or anything while online
(P1824)
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 7
age 23, pansexual, cis female). Participants proactively self-assess emotional and mental readiness
to respond to online negativity, in addition to individual situational practicalities (e.g. amount of
time available to engage online).
A participant demonstrates the process of appraising the situation and her capacity to respond,
as well as her response strategies when she determines the negative comment was a problem.
Depending on how stable I am that day if its a good day I will either delete the comments right away, I dont
report things unless it is a reoccurring problem, respond later when I can calm down, or if its especially bad
a friend will confront the person for me. More often than not I just cram down negativity and shut down for
a while until I can vent. I try to mostly stay in a healthy group of supportive friends when using social media to
avoid negativity in the rst place. (P3211, age 29, lesbian, cis female).
When participantsappraisals lead them to decide the comment is a problem, they then respond in
one of two overarching ways avoiding or responding or some combination of these two
approaches to responding. Themes 26 categorise how participants deal with negativity they
appraise as an issue. Theme 7 addresses comments from participants who judge the negative
comments to be a non-issue in their lives.
Theme 2: avoiding
Once the participants appraise themselves and the context, and decide that the online nega-
tivity is a problem that aects them, some choose to avoid future negativity by ignoring
comments or by behaviourally avoiding engagement with meanness online pre-emptively. In
a reactionary manner, some participants sidetrack onto other activities when experiencing
online negativity.
Sub-theme 2.1: ignoring comments
Nearly half of this samples responses are coded under this sub-theme (45.1%, n = 2,365), with
many SGMY saying simply ignoreor ignore them(refer to Table 2 for frequencies of primary
themes). While it is dicult to glean meaning from these brief responses, some participants go into
more detail. Many speak about ignoring online negativity as the only strategy they could use, as
responding often makes them feel worse or that there is an absence of personal supports in their
lives (e.g. friends) to whom they can turn to for positive reinforcement in engaging with negativity
in online spaces. A participant says, I just try to stay out of it and dont bother getting myself
involved(P1817, age 15, asexual, genderqueer).
Table 3. Sub-theme frequencies.
Sub-theme Primary code frequencies Overall code frequencies
Ignoring comments 45.1%, n = 2,365 50.2%, n = 3,168
Using platform features 13.7%, n = 718 16.5%, n = 1,041
Behavioural avoidance 12.4%, n = 630 29.9%, n = 1,882
Fighting back 11.0%, n = 576 16.4%, n = 1,034
Non-issue 9.5%, n = 497 10.6%, n = 671
Educating 6.5%, n = 342 10.4%, n = 654
Feeling distressed 6.3%, n = 329 9.4%, n = 594
Reecting and reframing 5.5%, n = 294 9.2%, n = 697
Seeking and providing support 5.3%, n = 273 8.2%, n = 512
Preventing negativity 2.6%, n = 136 5%, n = 314
Appraising situation 1.9%, n = 100 4.1%, n = 256
Sidetracking 1.6%, n = 86 2.7%, n = 168
Freezing 1.5%, n = 79 1.8%, n = 112
Building resilience 1.0%, n = 52 2.0%, n = 125
Appraising self 0.8%, n = 41 1.6%, n = 99
Self harming 0.3%, n = 21 0.7%, n = 45
Feeling tired 0.1%, n = 7 1.1%, n = 67
8S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
Sub-theme 2.2: behavioural avoidance
This is coded when participants pre-emptively avoid online negativity in a behavioural manner,
such as by skimming/glancing or deliberately avoiding toxic online situations. This sub-theme is
coded separately from ignoring, as responses tend to provide more detail on the behavioural
processes behind avoiding online negativity. One youth says, I simply dont seek it out/look for it. If
I come across something that I can tell will piss me o, I scroll by, because I dont want to waste
energy and brain capacity on it(P962, age 15, questioning, trans male). Similarly, some participants
utilise active or passive avoidance of a general nature, I try to avoid reading hateful comments.
When I do read them, I feel sad(P3606, age 21, queer, cis female). Another participant provides an
alternate perspective: Confrontation gives me heavy anxiety, I mostly avoid conict and dont get
many mean remarks directed at me since Im pretty passive and dont like to stir things up(P3211,
age 29, lesbian, cis female).
Sub-theme 2.3: sidetracking
Some participants avoid negative comments in a reactionary sense by going to a dierent website
or going oine, thus engaging in a process of sidetracking or shifting away from negative
situations and/or spaces. As a participant says, I just do whatever I guess like I listen [to] music
and . . . go to LGBT pages and they make me happier because theyre more positive(P3421, age 17,
pansexual, trans male). Such disengagement allows participants to focus their energies on activities
that make them feel better in the short-term, although the online negativity remains unresolved.
Some youth do not state specic sidetrack strategies, but do mention moving away from the
negative comment in a more general fashion; one person says that I just stare at them for
a moment then go on with my life(P5607, age 15, gay, cis male).
Theme 3: responding
After appraising the situation and their capacity to respond, and determining a negative comment
is a problem, many SGMY choose to actively respond to the online negativity with one or
a combination of three subthemes: ghting back; educating; and using platform features, such
as blocking. The appraisal of self and context often determines which response subthemes were
used. This is consistent with indications that individuals tailor their behavior for certain audiences
within specic contexts(Duguay, 2014, p. 2). For example, participants indicate that they are more
likely to educate a friend who they suspect is posting out of ignorance and not malicious intent.
However, strangers who appear to be more malicious are often met with sarcasm or arguments
from the youth participants.
Sub-theme 3.1: ghting back
One response to negative comments is ghting back with the perpetrator(s) of the negativity and/
or their supporters. A participant says, I get in arguments with a lot of ignorant and hateful people
online(P3019, age 17, bisexual, cis female). This response strategy is most frequently used with
people who are not known to participants, and would often involve multiple commenters on both
sides of the issue. Some participants would use wit, such as one person stating that any comments
that are negative generally are quite anonymous therefore I can throw it right back at them, not
insult them necessarily but use my sharp wit(P1113, age 15, bisexual, cis female). Participants use
humour and sarcasm as a coping mechanism to navigate negative comments online. There is
a sentiment that some power is taken away from the discriminatory comment through the use of
a sharp-witted response towards the perpetrator(s).
Sub-theme 3.2: educating
Participants often respond to negativity with attempts to correct misconceptions about SGM
people or otherwise educate those who are making oensive comments. As a youth says,
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 9
I do my best to educate those who leave ignorant [comments]. But I know when to just
drop it and walk away/block them when they arent open to learning. Negative comments online are
inevitable and they can be hurtful . . . You have the opportunity to teach them but if they arent open minded,
you can simply ignore them (P1804, age 16, pansexual, non-binary).
The choice to educate is closely tied with initial appraisal (Theme 1). If participants know the
person making the negative comments (e.g. friend or family member), or if there is a sense of
genuine ignorance, education is usually the response of choice. The more confrontational response
options arise when participants feel that they individually or SGMs generally are being targeted
with malicious intent. For some youth, educating involves less direct methods such as sharing
othersposts (i.e. reposting online negativity in an attempt at education), with one person saying I
posted a screen capture of the [negative comment] on Facebook (from YouTube) to start an
educational dialogue about bullying . . . (P3524, age 17, asexual, non-binary).
Sub-theme 3.3: using platform features
This refers to using specic features of online platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter). Some participants
alert website administrators of the negative comment, such as a youth saying I usually report and
unfollow people who post ignorant comments(P4195, age 19, bisexual, cis female). Participants do
not specify the outcome of such reporting, such as if the site chose to ban the reported user.
Nonetheless, this action is frequently taken, and may be attributed to the ease at which it can be
done (usually a button next to an oending post). The blocking feature (i.e. website users
preventing another user from viewing and commenting on their content) is also used, as
a participant explains: I usually delete the comment and block the person(P2827, age 15,
queer, cis female). Most social media sites do not alert users when they have been blocked
they simply stop being able to access the content of the person who initiated the blocking and/or
the person who initiated the blocking no longer sees the content of the person being blocked. The
likefeature is common across social media platforms as well, allowing users to align themselves
with a post through a single click. One person states that I usually scroll past and burn up inside or
like the comments I do agree with so people see I am on their side without voicing my opinion
fully(P1586, age 25, queer, trans male). As with reporting, this is a simple method (i.e. button click)
that can help SGMY show alignment with others who share their perspectives.
Theme 4: adaptive coping
Once they have made a choice regarding whether to engage in avoiding or responding to a negative
comment online, participants then identify a series of coping strategies. These strategies are classied
as adaptive or maladaptive ways to deal with the online negativity, based on the theoretical framework
of coping and the teams collective experience in practice and research with SGMY. Participants
generally demonstrate adaptive coping strategies (i.e. behaviours or activities that enhance wellbeing
without risk) that are engagement behaviours (i.e. taking action). These are coded under three sub-
themes: preventing negativity, seeking and providing support, and reecting and reframing.
Sub-theme 4.1: preventing negativity
As mentioned above, some participants pre-emptively attempt to avoid negative comments by
taking actions to minimise their exposure to online negativity, such as by customising their privacy
settings and/or choosing how to engage with online spaces, with one person stating that,
I largely try to avoid negativity in my online space, though of course thats not always feasible.
On Facebook, I dont post anything terribly personal: Ill link to an interesting article or share the
odd meme, but Im mostly in it for Messenger, at this point. While I do post more personal stuon
Tumblr, and am marginally less hesitant about voicing my opinion, I still go out of my way to avoid
conict, and often prefer to sit on the sidelines during, for example, fandom wars. I dont use
10 S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
Spotify in a social way, and so dont encounter too much meanness, and I use Whatsapp purely to
keep in contact with far-away friends, so I dont really encounter much negativity on those. My
Instagram content, both in my own posts and in the posts of people I follow, is pretty anodyne and
I dont spend much time on it. (P2903, age 23, queer, genderqueer)
This sub-theme is distinct from the avoidance sub-theme, as participants are taking a measure
of control by curating their prole or online engagement instead of sheltering themselves from
harm. Additionally, this is a form of responding to online negativity rather than a response to
a specic negative situation; in this case, participants are proactively initiating a coping strategy to
prevent further situations which could be harmful to their wellbeing.
Sub-theme 4.2: seeking and providing support
SGMY turn to sources of support to cope with online negativity, as a participant says, I usually have
one of my closest friends help me out with what to say and how to deal with it if it wasnt for them
Id be a wreck(P939, age 17, bisexual, trans male). Participants who seek support often identify that
there are one or two close people in their life to whom they can turn to when experiencing online
negativity. Most often, these support people are friends, with only few mentions of family or
professionals (e.g. school counsellors). Intertwined with seeking support is providing support to
other SGMY. One person states: When my friends on these sites get mean messages, I get very
upset and I try to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on and tell them how awesome they are and how
the mean comments are stupid(P1666, age 16, pansexual, two-spirit). This coping strategy is
connected to using platform features such as likingaligning comments. The provision of support is
identied as healing by many participants, who feel good after helping their peers.
Sub-theme 4.3: reecting and reframing
Participants sometimes view online negativity as an opportunity for reecting on and reframing the
experience. Some, for example, frame it as a learning opportunity, such as a youth stating, I just try
to ignore them or learn from them. Sometimes its an opportunity to teach others(P2761, age 17,
gay, trans male). Participants note that they often feel like their own strongest advocates. They
justify the choice to expend signicant personal resources to actively respond to online negativity
with the belief that online discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality will not improve
unless SGMY take action. Self-soothing and self-care is used also used as a strategy to cope with
experiences of negativity, such as a participant saying Just close out of the site and listen to music
until I calm down(P2148, age 18, pansexual, non-binary). This sub-theme has some overlap with
the responsive strategy of sidetracking, yet is still distinct in that explicating the focus on
themselves leads participants to feel better is and not just like a distraction or short-term solution.
Theme 5: maladaptive coping
SGMY state that online negativity can also cause them to cope maladaptively (i.e. in manners that
may pose risks) and disengage in two primary ways: self-harming and freezing.
Sub-theme 5.1: self-harming
Self-harm is a particularly concerning maladaptive response to encountering negative comments
online. A youth says, I usually try to ignore negativity, but a lot of the time depression takes over
and I end up hurting myself or something(P2191, age 14, queer, cis female). Another participant
identies self-harm and another, alternative avenue for healthier coping: Not well . . . I get [anon-
ymous hate] frequently. They almost all tell me Im better odead and to go kill myself . . .
I normally self-harm after those comments but I also seek help from other people using Tumblr
(P5565, age 17, lesbian, genderqueer). Participants whose responses reect this theme frequently
feel that they are alone in dealing with the negativity they have encountered online, and often take
the comments to be personal reections on themselves.
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 11
Sub-theme 5.2: freezing
Some participants express that they are unable to or do not know how to deal with online negativity.
A participant says: Im not comfortable with those comments. I had a breakdown with anonymous
hate on Tumblr plus the gross messages on LGBTQ+ groups on Facebook. Im bad at dealing with it
(P2823, age 17, bisexual, cis female). The uncertainty of how to address online negativity could
overwhelm participants. As another youth says: Idont really deal at all with negativity . . . if
I get too overwhelmed, sometimes Ill watch a video, but often Ill just sit and stew in my
negativity(P3685, age 20, pansexual, cis female). Similar to those who discuss self-harm as
a coping strategy, these SGMY identify that an inability to cope arises from feeling isolated in their
experiences of online negativity, to the point where they disengage and become unable to respond.
Theme 6: impacting wellbeing
Finally, SGMY articulate the ways in which negative comments impact their wellbeing. This
psychosocial impact is illustrated in the positive view of building resilience and in two negative
ways: feeling distressed and feeling tired.
Sub-theme 6.1: building resilience
Some participants feel that encountering online negativity makes them stronger. As a participant
says,
I used to get harassed online a lot growing up. It did hurt me really bad in the past to the point where I was
suicidal and depressed. But as I grew a little more, I became stronger; Fierce. I started not caring and ignoring
the rude/hateful comments. Because I dont believe in treating others bad and making them feel bad about
themselves though they made me feel bad about myself. I dont want to be on their level. I just ignore the hate
and realize how strong and great I really am. The strategy has been helping me (P84, age 22, queer, cis male).
One youth summarises how building resilience was a process,
Previously I would ght anyone over any shitty comment. As things in my life got better and I found my chill
and it wasnt so imperative to ght people . . . I found that if I was able to understand where people were
coming from and what they were really arguing or trying to say it became much easier to deal with (P4154,
age 24, asexual, cis female).
Sub-theme 6.2: feeling distressed
Participants express feelings of distress as a result of online negativity that could lead to poor
wellbeing outcomes (e.g. suicide risk). A participant says that It makes me upset and angry.
Especially when they are racist, homophobic, sexist, and rude. It irritates me and sometimes it triggers
suicidal thoughts when they say certain things(P945, age 15, bisexual, cis female). Online spaces can
be a refuge for SGMY when their oine world is uninviting, yet online negativity can prevent access to
this safe space. As a youth summarises, They hurt a lot and its hard sometimes to keep wanting to use
thesitewhenithappens(P3804, age 15, queer, trans male). Such distress can also hinder participants
from reaching out for support, as one person illustrates, I usually try to ignore them, however,
oftentimes they bother me, but Im too anxious to tell anyone so I bottle it up inside(P990, age 15,
bisexual, trans male). Self-isolation, or shutting oneself away from both their online and oine
methods of support, is frequently identied by participants as their reaction to online negativity.
Sub-theme 6.3: feeling tired
Experiencing ongoing negativity online is tiring for participants. One person says, Im exhausted
from trying to ght people online(P2583, age 15, lesbian, cis female). While some youth feel
control over responding (as in Theme 3), other participants nd it an exhausting duty: I almost
always have to engage and critique it. This can be exhausting(P3208, age 16, lesbian, cis female).
Feelings of exhaustion also arise from participants not being able to sleep, as they keep thinking
12 S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
about the negativity. Another youth says, Mostly I move on and let it roll omy back but when it
really gets to me I just ignore it until its late and I cant sleep and then I just lay there consumed
with the negative feelings the comment gave me(P385, age 19, bisexual, cis male).
Theme 7: non-issue
When participants engage in their initial appraisal of self and context (Theme 1), some view the
online negativity as a non-issue. Further, some participants state that they do not experience online
negativity, so this theme has been included as a negative case. One person states,
I do not get much negativity on any of my social media, as we are all pretty nice to each other. If
someone is rude I just delete it and move on. I do get a lot of comments every day and theyre
almost always nice. (P1000, age 17, pansexual, cis female)
Other participants provide a more succinct response, such as: I havent received negativity
(P2735, age 24, asexual, non-binary).
A model of SGMY navigating online negativity
SGMY recognise that negativity is present online and deal with the negative comments online that
they encounter in a complex manner that can involve several steps of appraising, deciding,
responding, coping, and dealing with an impact to their wellbeing. Collectively, these responses
cluster together in an emerging model of how SGMY navigate, cope with, and are impacted by
negative comments online (See Figure 1).
Initially, there is a negative comment. Then SGMY articulate that their rst strategy is to
appraise: (1) the situation; and (2) themselves. For some it is a non-issue, and their response
seems to end there. After the appraisal, participants then engaged with the negativity via: (1)
avoiding, (2) responding, or (3) some combination. Following evaluation of those strategies, the
participants would take some sort of coping action in response to the negativity that could be
categorised as (1) adaptive coping or (2) maladaptive coping. Finally, many SGMY articulate the
impact that both the negative comments and their response choices have on their wellbeing,
particularly in the area of their mental health.
Discussion
This studys exploration of how SGMY navigate online negativity contributes to emerging research
eorts on the challenges encountered by SGMY (Bowleg, Craig, & Burkholder, 2004; Daley, Solomon,
Newman, & Mishna,2007; Marshal et al., 2011), and the ways contemporary youth manage their
online lives (Varjas et al., 2013; Wiederhold, 2014). Exploring experiences provides insight into the
interplay of risks and resiliencies in this vulnerable population. This study articulates an emerging
model that illustrates the numerous ways in which SGMY are coping with online negativity (e.g. pre-
emptively determining their level of online engagement, support seeking, reframing) despite
ongoing adversity, and enhances our understanding of the complexity of SGMYs stressors and
coping strategies that may contribute to their resilience.
The initial appraisal stage of the model is described in detail by participants, who assess
themselves and the situation to determine their reaction. This shows that participants are self-
reective, assessing their capacity to deal with the potential conict and making clear choices
about how they would respond. Although the models avoidance strategy of ignoring comments is
the most prevalent primary sub-theme (45.1%, n = 2,365), which may typically be considered an
avoidant coping strategy for SGMY ignoring can be an eective protective strategy as a form of
appraisal to curb the detrimental eects of negative comments (Craig, McInroy, McCready,
DiCesare, & Pettaway, 2015). For example, in avoidances sidetracking sub-theme, SGMY take
steps to avoid conict and/or danger by avoiding or engaging in another activity. When
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 13
participants do respond, they often take control of situations by using their online presence to
educate others about SGM issues or advocate for those that are experiencing discrimination. SGMY
Figure 1. Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY) navigating online negativity.
14 S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
are less likely to defend themselves online, but instead choose to ignore or avoid problematic
individuals or sites. Yet, they seemed to be much more likely to defend others against discrimina-
tion, often by sharing knowledge. This aligns with previous research indicating that SGMY fre-
quently deal with discrimination by educating others (Singh, 2013). Importantly, participants do not
talk about removing themselves from all online spaces and, at times, even share the benets of
their online presence, reecting research that online spaces remain safer for many SGMY than their
oine contexts (Craig, McInroy, McCready, & Alaggia, 2015; Priebe & Svedin, 2012).
Resilience in the online context
Constant vigilance against online negativity can cause fatigue and indicates a need for better modera-
tion of online communication, which is demonstrated by maladaptive coping and negative impacts on
wellbeing. Yet although participants share challenges associated with navigating negative comments
online, they also demonstrate remarkable resilience. Ungar (2012) describes resilience as the facilitative
processes that enable coping in the face of adversity. Although they could not often control the
amount of negativity they were experiencing, SGMY reduce the impact of exposure to negativity by
actively managing their online lives. For example, engaging in behaviour such as side-tracking served
as a coping strategy that protected their wellbeing. Previous research has found that SGMY use humour
as a coping mechanism (Craig et al., 2018); this was also present in this study as youth seek to outwit
those making oending comments to feel more control over the situation. Advocacy is another coping
approach that can be an important component of resilience (Goodley, 2000). Many SGMY deftly
negotiated complicated online situations to preserve their online connections, minimise their distress,
and create safer online experiences for themselves, which may cultivate additional adaptive coping
strategies and post traumatic growth (Cox, Dewaele, van Houtte, & Vincke, 2010; Devine, Reed-Knight,
Loiselle, Fenton, & Blount, 2010). ICTs may be enhancers of resilience by providing SGMY with
a mechanism to confront homophobia, transphobia, and other abuses in relative physical safety
compared to an oine environment (Ybarra, Mitchell, Palmer, & Reisner, 2015).
Implications for research
This study nds that a large, geographically-dispersed sample of SGMY from the United States and
Canada deal with the negative comments they encounter online in a complex manner, and develops
an emerging model of the pathways by which SGMY navigate, cope with, and are impacted by this
problem. Future research should seek to conrm and expand the model, particularly focusing on
intersections of minority status amongst SGMY (such as race and ethnicity) through a stratied
analysis that can compare responses and coping to online negativity between SGMY subgroups.
Such an analysis could provide further insight into the complexities of navigating online negativity
for minority populations. Additionally, research should continue to investigate other types of online
negativity that SGMY may experience beyond comments, such as negative characterisations or
disparaging depictions of SGMs in online media (Robinson-Wood et al., 2018; Williams et al., 2016).
Implications for practice
The online negativity that SGMY experience overlaps their physical and digital worlds, similar to
many positive online interactions (Craig, McInroy et al, 2015). This complexity is further enhanced
with the realisation that SGMY are almost constantly online (GLSEN, 2013). The results of this study
represent an opportunity for practitioners to recognise the current coping strategies of SGMY while
providing support to minimise the signicant risks that online negativity poses to their mental
health. SGMY are often perceived as experts in managing online contexts given their particularly
active internet usage, yet some do not have the maturity to fully cope with these stressors (Craig,
McInroy et al., 2015; Varjas et al., 2013). Practitioners need to be cognisant of how to buer SGMY
PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 15
struggling with the negativity they encounter online, as well as protect against advocacy fatigue
(Goodley, 2000) through interventions designed to integrate the physical and digital experiences of
SGMY (Craig & McInroy, 2014; Craig et al., 2019).
As participants also detail the lasting eects of online negativity on their mental health, psycholo-
gists and other practitioners may consider how an online component to their practice (such as online
counselling or an online support group) may oer a service format that is more appealing to SGMY
than oine, in-person services. Notably, a recent analysis found that participants were signicantly
more likely to access online supports and resources as opposed to oine services (McInroy, McClosky,
Craig, & Eaton, 2019). In addition to supporting SGMY that have experienced online negativity,
practitioners may consider directing online interventions towards perpetrators in an eort to minimise
social distanceand encourage an empathetic understanding of the impact of their toxic online
behaviours (Gronholm, Henderson, Deb, & Thornicroft, 2017; Tynes et al., 2016).
Finally, it is important to consider how SGMY resilience may be supported by their online
actions. As they consider and often reframe negativity, they try to create space for themselves
(Craig, Austin et al., 2017), which may allow them to better deal with stress. Practitioners should
support this behaviour when it is contributing to a youths sense of resilience or wellbeing. As
a result of successfully negotiating the complexities of being a member of online communities,
SGMY may develop agency and internal resources through educating others, helping them survive,
and even thrive, within non-arming online and oine contexts.
Limitations
Due to the anonymous online survey method, there is no opportunity for member checking. It
is also unknown whether participants are active in any specicarmative programmes (such as
a school anti-homophobia group or services at a community agency) or are experiencing
discrimination in their oine lives that may impact their coping strategies. The construct of
resilience may not be fully explored because of the focus on negative comments online.
Identities are self-reported and do not include behavioural indicators. Although some youth
do not specically articulate that all negative comments are related to their SGMY identities,
many comments are specic to their SGM or intersecting identities (or general experiences),
and still provide an understanding of how SGM deal with challenging online experiences.
Although this model proposes a sequence of dealing with negative comments, not all indivi-
dual participants articulate this sequence.
Conclusion
Despite the stated limitations, this study advances understanding of the complex minority stress,
coping, and resilience processes inuencing SGMY when they are navigating negative comments
online. Participants articulate multiple examples of coping strategies in the face of a barrage of
negativity. Understanding the features of online exposure to stressors for SGMY and the internal,
social, and technological resources that they use to overcome such adversity can foster more
eective research and practice. Study ndings underscore that eorts should be made to recognise
SGMYs extraordinarily thoughtful and multifaceted responses to their online contexts. It is hoped
that this study will encourage future research initiatives to further explore the online experiences of
SGMY and their resulting resilience processes.
Acknowledgments
This work is supported by Insight and Partnership Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada (SSHRC). SLC is the Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Youth. ADE holds a salary award
16 S. L. CRAIG ET AL.
from the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN). We thank the youth participants for their contributions, Minnie Cui
for her excellent work on the model gure, and Bonnie Lao and Jenny Hui for their assistance with this article.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Funding
This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [47520150780].
Notes on contributors
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, RSW is a Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) at the University of
Toronto. and is the Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Youth (SGMY). She directs the International
Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR). Dr. Craigs research is supported by the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the Canadian Institutes of
Health Research (CIHR).
Andrew D. Eaton, MSW, RSW, is a PhD Candidate at FIFSW. He holds a Student Leader Award from the Ontario HIV
Treatment Network (OHTN). Mr. Eatons research is supported by the OHTN and the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network
(CTN).
Lauren B. McInroy, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work at The Ohio State University.
Sandra A. DSouza, MPH works for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
Sreedevi Krishnan is a Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate from FIFSW.
Gordon A. Wells, MSW, RSW is Group Programming Coordinator at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT).
Lloyd Twum-Siaw is a Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate from FIFSW.
Vivian W. Y. Leung is a PhD Candidate at FIFSW.
ORCID
Shelley L. Craig http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7991-7764
Andrew D. Eaton http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1331-1222
Lauren B. McInroy http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5426-5782
Sandra A. DSouza http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4395-7673
Vivian W. Y. Leung http://orcid.org/0000-0002-5455-2076
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PSYCHOLOGY & SEXUALITY 19
... 37). However, the Internet could also be problematic for SGMYs [56,60]. For example, SGMYs could be exposed to mistreatment online, with one adolescent noting: "It's [social media] public. ...
... 426). As a result of online issues, SGMYs are required to be skillful users of the Internet, such as when they use certain platform features to protect themselves (e.g., by utilizing blocking and privacy settings for safety reasons) [60]. ...
... For instance, when SGMYs held a "proud LGBTQ+ position", this could be resilience-enhancing in the face of mistreatment [62]. Engaging in altruistic activities or roles where SGMYs were "giving back" was also thought to be beneficial (i.e., [59,60,63]). This included SGMYs mentoring other SGMYs (i.e., [63,64]) or providing online support to SGMYs [60]-which in turn helped them "feel good after helping their peers" [60] (p. ...
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Robust population-based research has established that sexual and gender minority youths (SGMYs) are at an increased risk of mental ill-health, but there is a dearth of literature that seeks to explore how to best support SGMY mental wellbeing. This scoping review aims to identify findings related to coping strategies and/or interventions for building resilience and/or enhancing the mental wellbeing of SGMYs. PRISMA extension for scoping review (PRISMA-ScR) guidelines was utilized for this review. Studies were included if they were peer-reviewed papers containing primary data; reported psycho-social coping strategies for SGMY; were conducted with SGMYs in the adolescent age range; and were published in English. MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO databases were searched. Of the 3692 papers initially identified, 68 papers were included with 24 intervention-focused studies of 17 unique interventions found. The most commonly cited therapeutic modality was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (n = 11 studies). Despite the need to support the mental wellbeing of SGMYs, few interventions focused on this area and unique populations have been reported upon in the peer-reviewed literature. As a result, there is considerable potential to develop supports for SGMYs.
... Social media facilitates identity construction and communication by allowing LGBTQ+ youth to curate their online presence in a context characterized by relative safety (i.e., users can block or accept whomever they choose) and control over anonymity (i.e., users can choose how much [if any] of their life is made public) (Craig et al., 2020;Downing, 2013). The comparative anonymity available online facilitates opportunities for youth to develop and explore their LGBTQ+ identities in ways not feasible in offline communities . ...
... Anonymous social media activities ensure that participants' emerging LGBTQ+ identities are protected from premature disclosure and from socially significant individuals (e.g., friends, family) who may not be accepting . Recent research finds that LGBTQ+ youth are able to engage in self-expression by curating their profiles and navigating unwanted comments and advances, which they are unable to do to the same extent in their offline lives (Alhabash & Ma, 2017;Craig et al., 2020). The interactive nature of social media enables a closer investigation of the ways that LGBTQ+ identities and experiences are constructed and communicated using technology (Bond & Figueroa-Caballero, 2016). ...
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Social media sites offer critical opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and other sexual and/or gender minority (LGBTQ+) youth to enhance well-being through exploring their identities, accessing resources, and connecting with peers. Yet extant measures of youth social media use disproportionately focus on the detrimental impacts of online participation, such as overuse and cyberbullying. This study developed a Social Media Benefits Scale (SMBS) through an online survey with a diverse sample ( n = 6,178) of LGBTQ+ youth aged 14–29. Over three-quarters of the sample endorsed non-monosexual and/or and gender fluid identities (e.g., gender non-conforming, non-binary, pansexual, bisexual). Participants specified their five most used social media sites and then indicated whether they derived any of 17 beneficial items (e.g., feeling connected, gaining information) with the potential to enhance well-being from each site. An exploratory factor analysis determined the scale’s factor structure. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Sheffe post hoc tests examined age group differences. A four-factor solution emerged that measures participants’ use of social media for: (1) emotional support and development, (2) general educational purposes, (3) entertainment, and (4) acquiring LGBTQ+-specific information. Bartlett’s test of sphericity was significant (χ ² = 40,828, p < .0005) and the scale had an alpha of .889. There were age group differences for all four factors ( F = 3.79–75.88, p < .05). Younger adolescents were generally more likely to use social media for beneficial factors than older youth. This article discusses the scale’s development, exploratory properties, and implications for research and professional practice.
... Digital intervention development that tailors the delivery modality to incorporate the needs, experiences, and preferences of potential users and combines digital and human support increases the likelihood of user uptake and engagement with said interventions (32,33). While previous research examined how LGBTQ youth navigate negativity online (34), less is known about how rural-living LGBTQ youth might leverage social media to have supportive experiences. The overarching goal of this study was to provide content ideas and guide development of an intervention to improve social media experience and reduce perceived isolation among rural-living LGBTQ youth. ...
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... Given our results and the prevalence of depression and social media use among LGB persons, we suggest interventions that seek to empower LGB young people to reduce negative social media experiences or even eliminate experiences these before they happen. Although to our knowledge, these interventions are currently few or nonexistent, results of prior research [33] suggest that sexual and gender minority youth go through a series of decision points while navigating negativity on the web that could be responsive to behavioral interventions. Given the affordances of social media [34], future research must carefully assess a wider array of LGB-specific negative social media experiences to determine whether these experiences represent a distinctive stressor in the minority stress framework. ...
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Interdisciplinary collaboration fuels research innovation and funders are increasingly offering long-term grants prioritizing partnerships. However, a gap remains regarding the effective development, evaluatation, and sustainment of research partnerships; particularly those supporting marginalized populations such as sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY). There is a concomitant need to expand research internationally to cross-culturally conceptualize SGMY’s experiences, which information and communication technologies (ICTs) may facilitate. The International Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR) is a research consortium comprising over 40 academic and community representatives investigating and addressing issues faced by SGMY in Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA), and Mexico from an interdisciplinary perspective by: (a) conducting and disseminating interventions and exploratory research on SGMY’s ICT use, and (b) training cohorts of SGMY scholars and practitioners. This article details INQYR’s rationale and formation, including its objectives and organizational framework. Facilitators and barriers are discussed through reflection on INQYR’s first operational phase from 2018-2021, considering collaboration with diverse stakeholders and settings; shared goals; language and technology barriers; personal and workload barriers; infrastructure; and power and historical tensions. Implications for other research partnerships and concrete tools such as author guidelines for large-scale research partnership formation, operation, and evaluation are discussed.
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Background: Early adolescent years are marked by pervasive self- and peer-regulation regarding gender and sexuality norms, which can affect the mental well-being of sexual minority youth. During this developmental period, social media use is also emerging as a dominant mode of communication with peers, allowing for both risk and resilient behaviors that can impact well-being. Objective: This exploratory study aims to examine how sexual minorities in middle school use social media, who they are connected to and for what purposes, and the associations between these behaviors and mental well-being compared with their heterosexual peers. Methods: In our cross-sectional survey study of 1033 early adolescents aged between 10 and 16 years (average age 12.7, SD 1.21 years) from 4 middle school sites in the Northeastern United States, we conducted an exploratory study comparing sexual minorities (212/873, 24.3% of sample with known sexual orientation) with their heterosexual peers (n=661), obtaining an 84.46% (1033/1223; total possible) response rate. Results: Sexual minorities reported having smaller networks on their favorite social media website (β=-.57; P<.001), less often responded positively when friends shared good news (β=-.35; P=.002), and less often tried to make friends feel better when they shared bad news (β=-.30; P=.01). However, sexual minorities more often reported joining a group or web-based community to make themselves feel less alone (β=.28; P=.003), unlike heterosexual youth. Sexual minorities had higher averages of loneliness and social isolation (β=.19; P<.001) than heterosexual students. Sexual minorities were also twice as likely to have tried to harm themselves in the past (β=.81; odds ratio [OR] 2.24, 95% CI 1.64-3.06; P<.001) and were more likely to have symptoms that reached the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression definition of depression (β=.15; OR 1.16, 95% CI 1.08-1.25; P<.001). About 39.1% (83/212) of sexual minorities had no one to talk to about their sexual orientation. Sexual minorities were 1.5 times more likely to have joined a social media website their parents would disapprove (β=.41; OR 1.50, 95% CI 1.14-1.97; P=.004) and more likely to report seeing videos related to self-harm (β=.33; OR 1.39, 95% CI 1.06-1.83; P=.02) on the web than heterosexual youth. Conclusions: Given previous reports of supportive and safe web-based spaces for sexual minority youth, our findings demonstrated that sexual minority youth prefer to maintain small, close-knit web-based communities (apart from their families) to express themselves, particularly when reaching out to web-based communities to reduce loneliness. Future longitudinal studies could determine any bidirectional influences of mental well-being and social media use in sexual minorities during this difficult developmental period.
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LGBTQ+ (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 (n = 4,009) of LGBTQ+ youth (aged 14-29) compares online versus offline experiences. Respondents were significantly more likely to participate in LGBTQ+ communities online. Youth were also more active, and felt safer and more supported, when participating in online LGBTQ+ communities. Additionally, respondents sought online information, support, and resources at higher rates than offline. Increased attention toward online programming and resource development is warranted.
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Background: Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY, aged 14-29 years) face increased risks to their well-being, including rejection by family, exclusion from society, depression, substance use, elevated suicidality, and harassment, when compared with their cisgender, heterosexual peers. These perils and a lack of targeted programs for SGMY exacerbate their risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) interventions support clients by generating alternative ways of interpreting their problems and beliefs about themselves. CBT, tailored to the experiences of SGMY, may help SGMY improve their mood and coping skills by teaching them how to identify, challenge, and change maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Based on the promising results of a pilot study, a CBT-informed group intervention, AFFIRM, is being tested in a pragmatic trial to assess its implementation potential. Objective: The aim of this study is to scale-up implementation and delivery of AFFIRM, an 8-session manualized group coping skills intervention focused on reducing sexual risk behaviors and psychosocial distress among SGMY. Our secondary aim is to decrease sexual risk taking, poor mental health, and internalized homophobia and to increase levels of sexual self-efficacy and proactive coping among SGMY. Methods: SGMY are recruited via flyers at community agencies and organizations, as well as through Web-based advertising. Potential participants are assessed for suitability for the group intervention via Web-based screening and are allocated in a 2:1 fashion to the AFFIRM intervention or a wait-listed control in a stepped wedge wait-list crossover design. The intervention groups are hosted by collaborating community agency sites (CCASs; eg, community health centers and family health teams) across Ontario, Canada. Participants are assessed at prewait (if applicable), preintervention, postintervention, 6-month follow-up, and 12-month follow-up for sexual health self-efficacy and capacity, mental health indicators, internalized homophobia, stress appraisal, proactive and active coping, and hope. Web-based data collection occurs either independently or at CCASs using tablets. Participants in crisis are assessed using an established distress protocol. Results: Data collection is ongoing; the target sample is 300 participants. It is anticipated that data analyses will use effect size estimates, paired sample t tests, and repeated measures linear mixed modeling in SPSS to test for differences pre- and postintervention. Descriptive analyses will summarize data and profile all variables, including internal consistency estimates. Distributional assumptions and univariate and multivariate normality of variables will be assessed. Conclusions: AFFIRM is a potentially scalable intervention. Many existing community programs provide safe spaces for SGMY but do not provide skills-based training to deal with the increasingly complex lives of youth. This pragmatic trial could make a significant contribution to the field of intervention research by simultaneously moving AFFIRM into practice and evaluating its impact. International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/13462.
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Seven ethnically and racially diverse researchers conducted phenomenological research using a semistructured interview investigating the presence and nature of microaggressions in the lives of 59 highly educated racial, gender, and sexual minority research participants, ranging in age from mid20s to mid60s. The minimum educational requirement for the study participation was a completed master’s degree. Participants could be enrolled in a doctoral program and pursuing any discipline or could have previously obtained a doctoral degree. The relevance of resistance theory as a framework for understanding participants’ experiences with and responses to microaggressions was investigated. Using thematic analysis within a social constructionist framework, 8 central themes were identified: (a) Suboptimal System; (b) Microaggressions Tax; (c) Acrid Environments; (d) Misconstruing Race, Gender, and Sexuality; (e) Assumption of Universal Experience; (f) Valuing Relationships; (g) Armored Resistance; and (h) Optimal Resistance. Limitations and implications for future research are discussed.
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LGBTQ + youth encounter pervasive stigma-related stress that requires effective coping skills. This study explored the coping patterns of LGBTQ+ youth participants (N = 30) in a cognitive-behavioral therapy based coping skills training. Participants, 15–18 years old with a range of gender, sexual, racial and ethnic identities, completed a coping skills inventory (A-COPE) with 12 subscales at two time points. Based on the stigma-coping framework, coping skills were broadly classified as disengagement or engagement strategies. LGBTQ+ youth were most likely to utilize avoiding problems as a strategy to cope with stress, followed closely by being humorous, relaxing and ventilating feelings. Notably, seeking professional and spiritual support were the least adopted coping strategies. Post intervention, participants reported significant increases in the areas of primary control (solving family problems) and secondary control (seeking spiritual support, seeking diversion, engaging in demanding activities and being humorous). The findings demonstrate the versatility of LGBTQ+ youth's coping strategies and show the potential of the AFFIRM intervention to promote engagement coping patterns among this population.
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