Why Online Privacy, Confidentiality and Security Matter to LGBT Communities

Updated: Oct 6, 2020


If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you can be open about your sexuality or gender identity, consider yourself very lucky. Unfortunately, for many people, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender continues to carry with it significant social stigma in many communities around the United States and the world. It is easy to be reactionary and simply generalize that everyone should come out and then homophobia would no longer be an issue, but this is simply not something that everyone can afford to do, and for many it could be downright dangerous or deadly to do so. But even in places where coming out is not fraught with the immediate threat of physical danger, as more and more LGBT people reveal private information about their personal lives in social media, the real-life financial, social and economic implications can still be disastrous.

The Wall Street Journal framed the argument this way: “Closeted gays and lesbians face particular challenges in controlling their images online, given that friends, family and enemies have the ability to expose them.” Take employment, for example. In 29 states it is perfectly legal to fire someone based merely on their sexual orientation, and in 34 states it’s legal to fire someone based on their gender identity. In addition, an increasing number of employers are reviewing online profiles before making hiring decisions, and gay applicants are 40-percent less likely to be granted an interview than their heterosexual counterparts. As a result, the importance of online confidentiality and privacy is not merely a matter of convenience but carries with it significant financial and economic ramifications for those individuals whose sexual orientation or gender identities are revealed where protections are not offered. When people live in fear for their economic livelihood, it is disempowering because they worry that they will lose their jobs, homes, families and lives. Such fears have a multiplier effect and reverberate beyond those specific communities and weaken the LGBT civil rights movement in general. (It is one of the reasons that a comprehensive and inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] needs to be passed to guarantee protections so that LGBT workers will not lose their jobs.) Even changes in policies and laws may not be enough. I recently attended an event held byOutServe-SLDN, the association of actively serving LGBT military pe