Growing numbers of LGBT people are choosing to come out online, according to the LGBT Helpline, the national support service for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.
Paula Fagan, National Coordinator of the LGBT Helpline, said the experience of coming out has changed significantly as a result of digital communications.
“In the past, coming out tended to be a very personal experience, where you opened up about your sexuality to a small number of trusted family members or friends,” she said. “And while people are still careful about who they tell when they are first coming out, once they feel more comfortable about their sexuality, more and more people are choosing social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as a way of telling other family members, friends and their wider social circles.
“The volunteers who work in our support services are increasingly hearing from people who have made the decision to come out online, but who are then very anxious as a result, wondering how this huge event in their lives will be received. People can spend a lot of time deliberating over whether or not to come out online and then, after doing so, they can feel quite exposed.
In addition to the phenomenon of coming out online, Ms. Fagan said the LGBT Helpline is increasingly being contacted by victims of cyber-bullying.
“Mainly, this presents where people are either threatened with or have experienced negative comments being posted online about their sexuality or gender identity,” she said. “We are also hearing from people who have been threatened with, or have had, private images of themselves shared online, sometimes by an ex-partner.”
Ms. Fagan said social media use tends to be higher amongst LGBT people than the general population, with figures from 2014/2015 showing:
- 8 per cent of LGBT people used Facebook, compared to 57 per cent of the general population;
- 5 per cent of LGBT people used Twitter, compared to 21 per cent of the general population; and
- 5 per cent used Instagram, compared to 15.5 per cent of the general population.