In today’s digital age, connectivity has become essential to our daily lives. From engaging on social media, connecting with the community, finding a job, seeing a doctor, finding food or finding a home within your budget, the internet is a pivotal lifeline for people to connect, communicate, find opportunities and express themselves. However, not all individuals or communities have equitable access to these digital spaces and all the opportunities that access entails. This includes members of marginalized communities who are already members of other marginalized communities like LGBTQ+ BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) youth. We must look at this issue holistically across an individual’s lifetime, beginning with the earliest opportunities within the community, access to digital tools and resources in public education institutions, evolving all the way to safe and accepting spaces for LGBTQ+ youth who are exploring their gender identity and sexual orientation.
For LGBTQ+ BIPOC youth, a digital community might be one of the only spaces supporting their LGBTQ+ identity, especially for our BIPOC transgender community, who face the highest rates of bullying, harassment, and murder. To assist these individuals in achieving digital success, there are concrete and important issues we must begin to address:
Addressing the digital divide
One of the fundamental challenges that BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth face is the lack of access to hardware and reliable internet access due to cost or a combination of geographic location and price. Addressing issues around the digital divide can be achieved through initiatives such as extended hours and access to hardware and broadband in public schools, secure and safe community-based Wi-Fi networks and affordable internet plans. The latter is now affordable for many who were unable to afford digital resources before through the U.S. National Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is an excellent way for households to receive up to $30 monthly for internet service.
It is essential to recognize this approach is only scratching the surface of the most basic access issues and does not address the economic inequalities that lead to a lack of access or exposure to more advanced technical devices hampering educational and employment prospects. There is no question that the digital divide leads to a direct lack of hiring and representation of LGBTQ+ BIPOC in more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and Mathematics) and must be corrected to increase representation in those fields.
Creating safe and inclusive digital spaces
BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth often face discrimination, harassment and prejudice in both physical and digital spaces. It is essential to create safe and inclusive digital spaces that prioritize the well-being and safety of these young individuals. Online platforms, including social media networks and online support groups, should have clear guidelines against hate speech, discrimination, and bullying and take swift action to address violations. In addition, online spaces should be designed with inclusivity in mind, considering the diverse needs and experiences of BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth. This includes features such as customizable privacy settings, content moderation tools, options for reporting abuse or harassment, and straightforward, easy-to-access information on using these tools and features.
Representation and inclusivity in media and content
Representation matters, and it is critical to ensure that BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth see themselves reflected in media and content online. This includes a diverse representation of BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals in mainstream media, social media influencers and content creators. When BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth see people who look like them, share their experiences, and provide positive representation in digital spaces, it can enhance their sense of belonging, self-acceptance, and connectivity and ignite a passion for pursuing careers or businesses beyond their wildest dreams. Content creators and media outlets should strive to be inclusive and diverse in their representation and ensure that BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth can access relatable and affirming content online.
Culturally competent support and resources
BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth often face unique challenges that require culturally competent support and resources. Many of these young individuals come from diverse cultural backgrounds, some of which may not accept their gender identity, sexual orientation, or any representation other than binary. LGBTQ+ BIPOC individuals can face discrimination in their communities and often from biological family members, which can leave individuals homeless or, even worse, physically or mentally abused. It is crucial to provide direct, tailored support and resources that understand and respect the intersectionality of their identities. This can include online counseling services (if they have access), peer support groups and educational resources specifically designed for BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth. Collaborations between national and local LGBTQ+ organizations, cultural communities, and mental health professionals can help create comprehensive and culturally competent support networks that meet the specific needs of BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth.
Empowerment through digital activism
The internet has become a powerful tool for activism, and BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth can use digital platforms to raise their voices, advocate for their rights and drive social change. Companies and legislators working in technology must ensure they are taking the time to listen, understand and build products and regulations that are equitable for everyone, especially for underserved communities such as BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth. Creating spaces, rules, and regulations that empower communities produces a more equitable world to share stories, connect with like-minded people and communities, and engage in the civil exchange of ideas.
These are just a few of the ways we can begin improving access for BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth to ensure equitable digital success, but it is important we are listening to those living in these communities and addressing their most pressing digital needs first.
Chris Wood is the executive director of LGBT Tech.
This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation. For more information about affordable internet programs, check out Comcast’s Affordable Connectivity Program.