Abstract: LGBTQ+ Youth: Online Versus Offline Community Engagement, Perceptions, and Resource-Seeking (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

LGBTQ+ Youth: Online Versus Offline Community Engagement, Perceptions, and Resource-Seeking

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lauren McInroy, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University, OH
Rebecca McCloskey, MSW, PhD Candidate/Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Shelley Craig, PhD, Associate Dean & Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Andrew Eaton, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background/Purpose: Due to their marginalized identities, LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc.) youth experience increased risk of hostile offline climates—including family/peer rejection, discrimination, and harassment—as well as inhibited access to school-based supports (Kosciw et al., 2018; Prock & Kennedy, 2017). These difficulties constitute barriers to their engagement with LGBTQ+ communities and their utilization of identity-specific offline services. However, scant research has investigated the potential of online programs and resources for contemporary LGBTQ+ youth. This study sought to increase understanding of the types of identity-specific services and programs that LGBTQ+ youth tend to utilize and prefer, and the degree to which they engage with LGBTQ+ communities in online and offline contexts.

Methods: A secondary analysis of an online survey sample (n=4,009) of LGBTQ+ youth (aged 14–29) from the United States and Canada was conducted. Participant recruitment was undertaken March–July 2016 via email, social media outreach, and paid online advertising. The survey took approximately 45 minutes to complete, and focused on the use of online technologies and platforms, as well as youths’ health and mental health, identity development, and community involvement.

Results: Demographic categories were non-mutually exclusive. Gender: participants most frequently identified as woman/female (39%), non-binary/non-conforming (26%), and/or genderqueer/genderfluid (19%). Sexuality: participants most frequently identified as pansexual/panromantic (31%), bisexual/biromantic (24%), and/or queer (25%). Race: included 81% White, 8% Hispanic, 7% Multiracial, 5% American Indian/Canadian First Nations, 5% Asian, and 4% Black. Approximately half (49%) lived in urban areas; 38% lived in suburban settings, and 11% lived in rural communities.

Nearly half the sample (48%) reported spending more than five hours online daily. McNemar’s tests, paired t-tests, and ANOVAs revealed that participants were significantly more likely to participate in the LGBTQ+ community online (e.g., social media) than offline (e.g., community centers) (p≤.000), and were younger when they first participated online than offline [t(2453) = -13.22, p≤.000]. Additionally, participants were more active [t(4008)=10.12, p≤.000], felt more supported [t(4008)=26.28, p≤.000], and felt safer [t(4008)=35.78, p≤.000] when participating in the online LGBTQ+ community, compared to offline. Participants who spent more time online were also more active [F(2, 4005)=46.61, p≤.000], felt more supported [F(2, 4005)=20.36, p≤.000], and felt safer [F(2, 4005)=9.71, p≤.000] than those who spent less time online. Overall, participants reported accessing more LGBTQ+ resources and engaging in more LGBTQ+ activities via online mechanisms than offline.

Conclusions and Implications: LGBTQ+ youth seek out information, support, and resources at higher rates online than offline. Further, offline services may be particularly ill-equipped to serve LGBTQ+ youth who experience racial and economic inequality, as these factors can contribute significantly to offline service barriers (Diaz & Kosciw, 2009; Greytek et al., 2013). Thus, the potential of the Internet for service provision (via complex resources and programming) warrants increased attention by social service organizations and individual providers, particularly for sub-populations who to do not feel comfortable or safe accessing identity-based supports in school and community contexts. Ongoing research is critically needed to understand the feasibility, desirability, and effectiveness of conducting LGBTQ+ service provision online.