Chapter

‘In and Out, On and Off: LGBT+ Online Experiences’

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Abstract

It is widely acknowledged that the internet impacts on our lives in ever more ways. This is particularly true for young people, arguably the group most connected online. It is becoming apparent that the lives of older people are also increasingly entrenched in the internet in a variety of ways in their later life. Much has rightly been made of the potential vulnerability of children and young adults online. LGBT+ youth in particular continue to face unacceptable levels of abuse in their day-to-day lives whether at school or online; LGBT+ young people are almost three times more likely than non-LGBT+ youth to be bullied or harassed online (Kosciw et al. in The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, 2013). Older LGBT+ people, however, have been relatively ignored by the research community but there are indications that they too are potentially placing themselves at risk when they enter the cybersphere. However, for LGBT+ users of the internet, young and old, this awareness of risk is tempered by the valuable cloak of anonymity afforded by online communications. The internet is frequently a valuable source of information and support when they have no one, or nowhere, left to turn to (Drushel in LGBT Identity and Online New Media. Routledge, London, 2010). Online spaces can be places where sexuality can be explored without the risk of outing oneself in local communities Green et al. 2015 (Behaviour and Information Technology 34(7): 1–9, 2015). For instance, LGBT+ young people are more likely to have searched for health and medical information online compared to non-LGBT+ youth. Older LGBT+ people are increasingly using the internet to find their intimate partners. However, cyberspace is, arguably, part of Butler’s (Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, London, 1990) heterosexual matrix. This places young, and indeed older, LGBT+ internet users at particular risk of exclusion and exploitation, the implications of which will be explored in this chapter.

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