Exploring your identity online?
We all feel different sometimes. It can feel like it’s hard to find people who get you: people who are into the same things, share the same experiences, and know where you’re coming from. For lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) young people, finding other people you can relate to can be really tough. But when you do find someone who knows what you’re going through, it feels great.
Apps, websites and social networks make it easy for people to connect, whether they’re LGBT or not, but for LGBT young people they’re particularly useful. 96 per cent of LGBT young people say the internet has helped them understand more about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and 93 per cent say they found the advice and support they needed through the internet (Stonewall, Staying Safe Online, 2012).
Do you feel less shy online than in real life?
Most people do. You can feel like you’ve made a connection with someone really quickly and that you know someone very well. This makes it easier to talk about more private things, like love and sex, and share things you might not have told anybody else about, like your gender identity or your sexual orientation.
Meeting people online
Lots of people like to chat online and it’s really common for people to meet girlfriends, boyfriends or other romantic partners online, too. One in three married couples meet for the first time online. And LGBT couples are even more likely to have started their relationship online.
Look out for the fakers
The internet can be fun and it can be a lifeline, especially for young LGBT people. But it’s really important to be careful. Did you know that there are hundreds of millions of fake accounts on Facebook? And that's just Facebook. What about Tinder, Instagram, Twitter and Grindr?
Some adults hang around sites and apps that young people use and deliberately target them. They want to trick or force them into sending inappropriate selfies, live stream or video them doing sexual things, or get them to meet up in real life.
They often pretend to be someone they’re not – maybe even someone your age. It can be difficult to spot them and it’s easy to mistake their interest in you as just them being friendly. They might start flirting and talking about sex really quickly. Or they might take their time to say things that make you feel special. They want to get young people to trust them, so they’ll try to persuade you that you have a special connection. It can be difficult to tell the difference between someone genuine and someone abusive.
When you meet someone new online, ask yourself…
Are they too good to be true?
Do they like all the same films and music as you? And they’re gorgeous too – just your type? It’s easy to be swept away by their interest but they could just have got the information from your online profiles. With your likes and dislikes available for anyone to see it’s easy someone to pretend they have lots in common with you. And photos are easy to copy, edit and share, which means it’s easy to pretend to be someone else.
Do they want to talk about sex with you?
Maybe they’re very flirty with you and keen to talk about sex from the start. Perhaps they’ve taken time to make you feel special before mentioning sex. Either way, think about how this makes you feel and why they might be doing this. Do you feel comfortable talking about sex? Do you feel ready to talk about sex with them? Are they trying to take things further by showing you porn or asking you to take and share naked pictures with them or do sexual things on camera?
Do they know a lot about you, and make you feel worried about that?
Does the person you’re chatting to encourage you to share loads of personal information with them, including things you’ve never told anyone else? Do they ever make you feel like they might tell someone else without your consent? Do they use what they know about you to persuade you or force you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable?
Have you seen them on camera?
It’s very easy for someone to lie to you online, even if you’ve seen them using video chat. Is the video and speech disjointed? Video footage can be recorded without a person’s knowledge or consent and then used to fake a live video chat. So, who you see may not be who you’re talking to. Maybe they ask you to go on video chat but claim their camera is always broken. Think about why they might be making this excuse.
Do they want to meet you in real life?
It’s always risky to meet up with someone you’ve only met online, but if you do decide to go, always meet in a busy public place. Make sure friends and parents or carers know where you are, when you left and when you’ll be back. Take a trusted adult with you if you can – you can ask them to wait nearby where they can easily reach you. Make sure your phone is fully charged and that you have credit or minutes to make a call if you need to. It’s a great idea to take some money with you just in case you need it.
Being LGBT and safe online
Get advice from places you can trust.
Organisations like Childline, Young Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence or LGBT Youth Scotland are great places to get advice and support. But remember, you can never really be sure of who you’re talking to, even if the forum or group is moderated. Remember to follow our tips for staying safe.
If you’re LGBT and don’t feel ready to talk about this to other people face to face, you can talk to other LGBT people in a number of online forums. It’s a safe and anonymous way to find out more but make sure you don’t reveal any personal information which would enable people to identify you offline. This is especially important if you’re not ready for other people in your life to know that you’re questioning your gender identity or your sexual orientation.
We know that people who abuse may look for LGBT young people online who say they are feeling lonely or upset. Make sure you use forums provided by the recognised LGBT organisations above, and be aware of people who want to chat with you privately. You’ll find more advice here.
Just between us?
Anything you share online is no longer under your control. Anything we send can be copied and shared, even live video chats. Never feel under pressure to do something you don't want to do. If someone respects you, they would never make you do something you’re not comfortable with.
Checking in and meeting up.
Lots of popular social networks and dating apps enable you to share your location or chat to people in your area. It’s never a good idea to share your location and it’s always risky to meet up with someone you’ve only met online. If you do decide to meet up, make sure your friends know where you are and take a trusted adult with you.
Have questions about being gay, lesbian, bi or trans?
These organisations specialise in giving impartial advice and support to LGBT young people.
Childline Message Boards – Sexuality & Gender Identity
A place where young people can share their experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations. Young people can talk about all sorts of things, including their feelings about their sexuality or gender identity. The boards are moderated and there are house rules that everyone needs to follow. Childline also has pages with further information and advice for young people about sexual orientation and transgender identity.
Remember, you can also talk to a counsellor at Childline about anything at any time, for free on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk
Young Stonewall provides information and advice on issues that affect LGBT young people.
www.youngstonewall.org.uk or call 08000 502020
LGBT Youth Scotland
Offering advice and support to LGBT young people in Scotland in particular, the site has lots of useful information and advice for LGBT young people in the rest of the UK.
www.lgbtyouth.org.uk or call 0131 555 3940
Offers services for trans young people aged 13-25 across the UK. It has a youth group and also provides support services to the families of trans young people.
An award-winning charity for adults and young people affected by homophobia and transphobia.
A national network of LGBT groups, projects and organisations. The LGBT Consortium’s website has a directory where you can search for local LGBT services. Remember to select ‘Provides services for Young People’ to find services for young people locally.
Need advice about sexual health, sex or relationships?
Free, confidential sexual health information and support services for young people under 25.
Worried about someone you’ve met online?
Is someone being weird online? Do you feel under pressure to have sex? Are you being sexually abused? Report it.
CEOP helps young people who are being sexually abused or are worried that someone they’ve met is trying to abuse them.
If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report it to CEOP so they can make it stop.
If you or someone else is in immediate danger please dial 999.
Talk to someone
Childline is a free, confidential helpline. If you need someone to talk to call them anytime on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk to speak to a counsellor.