How to support LGBT+ young people to stay safe online

Research has found that one of the most positive aspects of being online for LGBT+ young people is the opportunity to connect with like-minded people and access specialist support, in a way that is more challenging offline. 

Our Digital Romance research found that LGBT+ young people were more likely than others to have asked someone out online and to have dated someone they had met online. One 15 year old participant reflected “Being able to find people online is, like, an easy way to test the waters. To, like, experiment or to, like, reaffirm your own sexuality and stuff like that”.

This preference for, and higher use of, technology for meeting new partners does not come without the potential for increased risk and hurt:

  • Becoming the target of online homophobic/biphobic/transphobic abuse
  • Increasing the likelihood of being targeted by child sex offenders who are seeking to exploit a young person who is exploring their sexuality and/or identity
  • Providing opportunities to engage in risky behaviour. For example, our Digital Romance research found that gay young people were more likely to often meet people in person who had deceived them online. 

With these risks in mind, what can we do to help LGBT+ young people explore their identity online in the safest way?

1. Address LGBT experiences in RSE and PSHE

Digital Romance found that many young people were dissatisfied with the heterosexual assumptions made in the relationships and sex education they had received. Stonewall’s survey of LGBT+ young people found that just 13% had learnt how to have healthy same-sex relationships, and 20% had learnt about consent in same-sex relationships.

The new RSE curriculum goes some way to address these issues, requiring schools to teach LGBT+ content at a time the school deems appropriate. When teaching young people about relationships, make sure you explore the features of healthy, same-sex relationships so that LGBT+ young people can learn to identify healthy and harmful behaviours and resist pressure if they find themselves in an exploitative relationship both on and offline.

Resources to support you:

Disrespect NoBody teaching resources– PSHE Association with the Home Office and Government Equalities Office

Making sense of relationships lesson plans– NSPCC with the PSHE Association

2. Make sure LGBT young people know who to report concerns to

It’s important for all young people to have a trusted adult to go to should they experience something worrying online. For LGBT+ young people, they may find it more difficult to identify an adult, particularly if they are yet to ‘come out’ about their sexual orientation and/or identity.

To encourage them to report any concerns or worries:

  • Make sure your organisation has simple and clear reporting procedures 
  • Reassure them that neither sexual orientation nor their identity will impact how they are treated when they report

Remind young people if they feel they are being sexually exploited or in contact with an adult who is trying to engage them in sexual activity, they should report it to the police or CEOP. As with all young people, LGBT+ young people may confide in their friends and they too should be encouraged to seek help if they are worried that their friend is being exploited. Direct them to our ‘Worried about a friend’ section of our website for further support. 

If they have any other concerns, including cyberbullying, let them know that they can talk to a counsellor at Childline.

3. Signpost them to further information and advice

Help LGBT+ young people to benefit from the opportunities of gaining support and friendships online.

Make sure they do this safely by sharing our articles on how to safely explore their identity online, and how to seek support. Use this to discuss the importance of getting advice from trusted sources, and using forums safely.

Examples of trusted sources:

Young Stonewall

Childline

LGBT Youth Scotland

Brook