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LGBTQ youth more likely to seek community online, survey shows

by John Paul Brammer /

A new survey from Lady Gaga's nonprofit Born This Way Foundation found LGBTQ youth are more likely to seek community online compared to non-LGBTQ youth.

Composed of data collected from 3,015 online interviews with people ages 15 to 24 in June and July, the findings showed LGBTQ youth respondents were unique in saying they felt they could be more themselves online than they could offline. Seventy-six percent of LGBTQ respondents agreed they could be their "complete self online" compared to 74 percent who said they could be their "complete self with friends."

For comparison, 66 percent of all non-LGBTQ respondents said they felt they could be their "complete self online" while 82 percent said they could be their "complete self with friends."

The greatest divide, however, was in whether or not respondents went online to "find relatable people" because it is "hard to in daily life." More than 60 percent of LGBTQ youth reported to doing so, compared to 40 percent of non-LGBTQ youths.

Similar findings were published in an "Out Online" report by LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, which examined the in-depth experiences of LGBTQ youth online. The 2013 report found 62 percent of LGBTQ youth used the internet to find LGBTQ resources and information, five times the rate of non-LGBTQ youth.

LGBTQ youth are also more likely to be isolated and look to the web to build their social networks, according to the report, which found more than half of LGBTQ youth who were not out to peers in person had used the internet to connect with other LGBTQ people.

The Born This Way Foundation survey found young people across the board view the internet as a place where they can find a supportive community. It also tracked which platforms they are drawn to, including SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Victoria McCullough, Tumblr's social impact and public policy lead, told NBC News Tumblr is aware of the large number of LGBTQ youth who use the platform, and she said the company keeps them in mind when rolling out new features.

"This was an unexpected part of Tumblr, and one of the more exciting things," MucCullough said of the platform's LGBTQ user base. "As a company, with the LGBTQ community, we're trying to do everything we can to protect them not just online but also offline."

As for why LGBTQ young people are attracted to the platform, McCullough said the opportunity to be anonymous can be a big draw.

"One factor is anonymity," she said. "It allows for a safe space for LGBTQ youth who aren't necessarily comfortable coming out in their own community. It makes them feel like they can be themselves."

Tumblr's thriving social justice community is one example of the kind of place LGBTQ youth are turning to in order to discuss important issues. According to Born This Way Foundation's survey, LGBTQ youth are much more likely to discuss issues such as body image and sex online than they are in person.

Together, the statistics show a reliance on the internet from LGBTQ youth for valuable resources and information. Some advocates say this gives the current battle over net neutrality more significance.

“The internet is a lifeline for LGBTQ people to build community support networks and access LGBTQ resources on history, suicide prevention, and health," Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, said regarding the importance of internet access for the community.

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