Human Rights Campaign Celebrates National Coming Out Day and the Impact of Affirming Online Communities

by Aryn Fields

WASHINGTON—Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, is commemorating the 33rd annual National Coming Out Day (NCOD) by announcing the release of an insightful new resource, Online Communities and LGBTQ+ Youth, which highlights how the internet has been a tool of exploration for LGBTQ+ youth who come out at a younger age than previous generations, often using the internet. Along with the toolkit, HRC is also releasing its first blog post from its interim president, Joni Madison, on her coming out experience.

National Coming Out Day exists to promote a safe, inclusive and loving world where LGBTQ+ people can live truthfully, openly and without fear. As the internet has become an integral part of our lives, it often holds a critical role in the coming out process, especially for LGBTQ+ youth who can receive affirming support and grow into themselves in online spaces without judgement. It is absolutely critical to practice internet safety and put you or your child’s mental health first, but engaging with welcoming LGBTQ+ online spaces can show us we are worthy of respect and celebration. Coming out is still so powerful—our stories, our identities and our experiences give us collective strength.

Joni Madison, Human Rights Campaign Interim President

In the U.S., there are an estimated 20 million LGBTQ+ adults and more than 2 million LGBTQ+ youth. Data conveys that while using the internet is incredibly widespread in the United States, LGBTQ+ youth spend an average of 45 minutes more per day online than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, and two-thirds of LGBTQ+ youth may use the Internet to connect with other LGBTQ+ people at any point in a given year. In fact, 50% of LGBTQ+ youth have at least one close online friend, compared to 19% of non-LGBTQ+ youth. However, with this increased exposure to online spaces, LGBTQ+ youth are often targeted for cyber-bullying; this report found that 25% of LGBTQ youth, 33% of LGBTQ youth of color and 34% of transgender youth are bullied online or electronically—for caregivers and LGBTQ+ youth, navigating these dual realities can be complicated.

Positive online spaces allow LGBTQ+ people to develop language to express their authentic identities—73% of LGBTQ+ youth say they are more honest online than in the ‘real world.’ Additionally, the internet provides invaluable resources to LGBTQ+ individuals, that were once unavailable, such as mental health services, same-sex sexual education and information on transitioning. While social media allows for LGBTQ+ youth to find valuable resources, it has also become a tool for perpetuating negative attitudes around body image. LGBTQ+ youth are particularly susceptible to unhealthy messaging around body image, as they often have different ways of expressing their sexual orientations or gender identities from their peers.

In June, T-Mobile pledged a multi-year donation to support new work at HRC Foundation to advance digital literacy and safety among LGBTQ+ youth and those who have multiple marginalized identities; the new programming will provide education about cyberbullying and internet safety. According to The Center for American Progress, 50% of Americans have someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. About four in ten (42%) Americans personally know someone who is transgender.

HRC first observed NCOD on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 33 years ago. Now, advocates and activists have joined forces in support of The Equality Act, landmark federal legislation that would modernize our nation’s civil rights laws by including explicit protections for LGBTQ+ people, as well as improve protections for women, people of color, and people of all faiths.

In addition, HRC asked supporters to record messages of support to LGBTQ+ youth who are in the process of coming out—thousands of heartwarming messages were compiled into this audio quilt. Similar affirmations, regarding the coming out experience and celebrating NCOD, can be viewed here. For more information and resources on NCOD, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center, which showcases various Coming Out Guides for the LGBTQ+ community.

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