LGBTQIA+ youth use social media to maintain and understand family relationships

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Much of World Pride revolved around the visibility of LGBTQIA+ people. This is important to affirm who we are, celebrate our place in the world and celebrate ourselves as LGBTQIA+ people. Social media offers new ways to be visible and many people have shared their Pride celebrations during this time. However, not all.

Our new study shows that with their families in mind, young LGBTQIA+ people decide what to post on social media sites to nurture and nurture relationships with them.

We conducted focus groups and interviews with 65 LGBTQIA+ people aged 16-30 across all states and territories of Australia. These young people identified with a variety of sexualities and gender identities and came from multiple ethnic backgrounds.

Family as a risk?

Previous studies of LGBTQIA+ online experiences have often labeled family as “at risk.” LGBTQIA+ people can be unwittingly outed to family and inadvertently revealed their gender or sexuality online.

However, our study found that social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are indeed spaces for certain young people to maintain family ties and care for them. This affects how they manage (or curate) their online social media spaces.

New research (from the lead author of this article) suggests that family considerations are more important to LGBTQIA+ people than is often assumed. The idea of ​​homophobic families often means little thought has been given to how important families can be to the life and identity of LGBTQIA+ people.

“I don’t want my family to catch anything”

One of our respondents, a 17-year-old bisexual cis man, stated that he is not open about his sexuality on Facebook. He stated he did not want to strain relationships with family friends who have known him since childhood. He explained: “If I came out or whatever, it wouldn’t just affect me […] I wouldn’t want my family to blackmail anything for it either, um.”

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A 17-year-old trans man had a similar reason for not being open about his gender on the same platform. He told us: “[…] Mom’s struggling with this anyway. And if it [my gender identity] out more, out to the rest of the family and the world, I reckon she would fight a lot more. ”

For these LGBTQIA+ youth, being invisible and purposely not sharing information about their gender and/or sexuality means curating social media spaces that keep their loved ones safe.

Learning how to manage family relationships

It has also been discussed that social media sites provide valuable information on how to manage family relationships when having a diverse sexuality and/or gender identity. This information may come from colleagues who share their experiences.

For example, a 29-year-old bisexual interviewee stated that he has not come out with his family but has plans to come out in the next year. Reading people’s experiences on Facebook helped them understand other people’s coming-out experiences and provided valuable information on what to expect and “how to deal with it.”

What needs to be done?

Social media platforms are important for LGBTQIA+ youth. They are spaces where careful curation is about maintaining family relationships and exploring and learning about family. They can be used to their potential as a support.

Services and practitioners such as counselors, psychologists and LGBTQIA+ organizations could:

Ensure LGBTQIA+ youth have the digital literacy skills to navigate social media carefully so they can maintain bonds and care for families.

Suggest online peer spaces and groups, such as Facebook groups, to help individuals find valuable information on navigating complicated family relationships and get support from others. This requires ensuring that young people understand the risks involved in joining such groups through their individual accounts.

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Social media platforms also need to better understand that privacy and information hiding play an important role in maintaining offline relationships. There are increasing resources to support LGBTQIA+ youth online, but in this context there may be a greater focus on family relationships.

The results of this study tell us that LGBTQIA+ youth use social media to maintain and make sense of family relationships. It can be about love, caring and concern for family and nurturing of bonds.

From this perspective, online spaces are not simply about family danger and risk, but rather complicated places shaped by feelings and attachments. In other words, the family is “not something to be curated against, but something to be curated for”.

We would do well to remember that being visible and invisible at events like World Pride has a lot to do with it.