Each June, communities around the world come together to recognize LGBTQ+ Pride Month. This month is dedicated to acknowledging the battle for equal rights for Queer communities and honors the legacy of activists of past and current generations. As Next Century Cities celebrates Pride, we recognize the immense power and potential of broadband access in forming and supporting communities.
At the heart of socializing in the 21st century is a vast network of messaging applications, blogs, social media platforms, and discussion forums. Through these spaces, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others can connect and create inclusive spaces that foster healthy social and emotional growth for people of all ages.
Far too many Americans do not have the access, tools to adopt, or digital readiness to participate in online communities, including many LGBTQ+ individuals.
In Next Century Cities member communities across the country, local leaders are working to implement digital equity plans focused on bringing fast, affordable, and reliable broadband access to all people, especially the LGBTQ+ community. While not every state across the country is home to an LGBTQ+ Community Center, online resources have significantly expanded in the last decade and have become a lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth.
A recent survey from the Trevor Project, a national organization dedicated to promoting LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health, found that twice as many youth find supportive spaces online as they do at home. However, without adequate broadband access, an individual cannot utilize these spaces. Yet, researchers have found a lower rate of mental health crises when someone can find comfort and visibility using online connections.
In addition to local governments, national governments are also stepping up to support LGBTQ+ communities in their efforts to get online. For example, LGBT Tech, a Washington, D.C. based organization, works to advocate on behalf of the community on the “unique needs of LGBTQ+ individuals…when it comes to tech.” They operate a program called Power On that provides devices and connectivity to individuals in need.
Access to reliable broadband and Internet-enabled devices also provides opportunities for LGBTQ+ individuals to gain economic independence, sustainable jobs, and critical health care. For a community with one of the highest homeless rates in the country and unique medical needs, reliable and affordable access to the Internet can be a life-changing tool.
Equitable Internet access for LGBTQ+ identifying people requires that connections are secure and that data remains private. The ability to selectively present one’s identity across social platforms, “selective visibility,” is a crucial personal safety tool that enables LGBTQ+ people to connect with others without fear of emotional, economic, or physical harm. For people who identify as LGBTQ+, network security and data privacy can mean the difference between life and death.
The Internet has long served as a place for communities to come together and participate in shared activities. No matter where someone lives, they can traverse the world wide web and find a welcoming, affirming space that provides them with a sense of identity. As municipalities continue to find local solutions to close connectivity gaps, they must center digital equity for various identity groups and communities.
The digital divide remains one of the most widespread and challenging issues facing our country today, with a unique impact LGBTQ+ youth and adults seek a reliable connection to the Internet as they discover their identity, connect with their peers, and fulfill their dreams. While expanding broadband calls for advocacy, funding, and local leadership, during Pride and every month, we should add empathy to our arsenal of remedies.
From the NCC team – Happy Pride!