The pandemic has exacerbated loneliness for LGBTQ+ people, here’s how digital inclusion could help
Our Communications and External Affairs Intern, Phoebe Scholefield, discusses the importance of digital inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.
After two years of on and off lockdowns, isolation and separation from our loved ones, it is no surprise that the loneliness epidemic has worsened. During the first lockdown, 2.6 million adults reported that they experienced loneliness, having a negative effect on their wellbeing. However, the impact of this has been particularly felt by LGBTQ+ people.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, 21% of LGBTQ+ people said they often experienced loneliness, during lockdown this percentage more than doubled to 56%. Similarly, 27% of LGBTQ+ people said that increased isolation was one of their top three concerns related to the crisis.
In a recent study investigating loneliness in younger people, sexual orientation is specifically cited as one of the leading predictors. It is clear that LGBTQ+ people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness, but why is this?
Although research in this area is limited, we can identify a range of factors that could contribute to this imbalance. For instance, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have experienced family rejection, making it increasingly difficult to establish a support system. Similarly, less than half of gay, bisexual and trans people feel able to be open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their family. Feeling unable to ‘come out’ leaves many LGBTQ+ people feeling isolated from their loved ones.
Not feeling able to ‘fit in’ to heteronormative society could also have an impact as people may feel disconnected from their peers and society at large. This is worsened by the fact that we have seen a surge in homophobic hate crimes since the beginning of the pandemic. With two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people reporting that they have experienced anti-LGBTQ+ violence, it is no surprise that loneliness is so widespread, as this violence increases the marginalisation of the LGBTQ+ community.
It is important to recognise that loneliness may also be felt disproportionately within the LGBTQ+ community, due to the different identities that exist inside it. Unfortunately, discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community is common: 51% of BAME LGBTQ+ people and 36% of trans people reported facing discrimination within the community. The ongoing prejudice that still exists within this space, leaves some LGBTQ+ people feeling isolated from the community that is supposed to support them.
Why is digital inclusion for LGBTQ+ people so important?
For many LGBTQ+ people, finding a community and establishing connections with like minded individuals is vital in alleviating loneliness, the internet provides an essential tool to do this.
The online world offers a valuable space for LGBTQ+ people to explore their identity, access support and find peers. Things not all LGBTQ+ people can access offline.
Nearly all young LGBTQ+ people (96 per cent) say that the internet has helped them to understand their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The internet offers an opportunity for self-education and exploration, as many organisations provide online resources to support LGBTQ+ people through challenges. For example, the Proud Trust shares information for LGBTQ+ youth on a range of topics from coming out, to staying safe as a LGBTQ+ person.
The internet also opens up a vital line of communication between LGBTQ+ people, something that is incredibly valuable for those who either don’t have LGBTQ+ friends offline, or can’t be open about their sexuaility publically. For example, the national health and wellbeing charity for LGBTQ+ people, LGBT HERO, runs online forums on a range of topics. Services such as this provide a safe and non-judgemental space for LGBTQ+ people to connect, seek advice, and learn about their identity.
Finally, the internet can be used to direct people towards more immediate support. There are a number of helplines exclusively for LGBTQ+ people. These helplines are so important for LBGTQ+ people who are in a crisis, without the online world, identifying these services would be challenging.
But what about those who can’t get online?
For LGBTQ+ people, the benefits of being online are clear to see, however, not everyone will have access to these valuable services. Last year, we wrote about how LGBTQ+ people experience the digital divide. We highlighted that for LGBTQ+ people, the increased likelihood of homelessness and poverty implies that digital exclusion may be a reality for many. However, more research needs to be done into digital exclusion for LGBTQ+ people.
We know that 10 million people in the UK lack the basic skills needed for our digital world and 1.5 million households in the UK don’t have internet access at home, LGBTQ+ people will make up a portion of these people. The fact that LGBTQ+ people are experiencing increased loneliness during the pandemic reiterates how vital it is that we address the digital divide, especially when we recognise the role the internet plays in the lives of many LGBTQ+ people.
- LGBTQ+ – The acronym for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning
- Heternormative – denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation
- Homophobic – having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against gay people
Stonewall also has a great list of LGBTQ+ terms.
Communications and External Affairs Intern
Phoebe provides support to the Communications, Marketing and External Affairs team, creating engaging social media content, supporting campaigns and writing newsletters and case studies.