Internet Access is Essential for Rural LGBTQ+ Americans
LGBTQ+ individuals don’t just live in urban city centers. A significant number of us
also call rural America home. We’re the neighbor down the street, the small
business owner around the corner, and the organizers helping create LGBTQ+-
affirming communities across the country. However, rural Americans are more
likely to struggle with internet access than their urban counterparts and this can
have an especially big impact on marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+
community, in these rural areas.
Everyone’s coming out experience is unique to them. For some, the coming out
process begins by telling trusted friends and family. However, for many of the over
3 million LGBTQ+ Americans living in rural areas, the internet is where the coming
out process often starts. It might’ve begun with a video call from a healthcare
provider, a web chat with the Trevor Project, or just a Google search when in crisis.
Whatever the reason, the internet is often the first line of support and last line of
defense for LGBTQ+ individuals in rural areas. Rural LGBTQ+ youth are more likely
to be open about their sexual identity online – rather than in person. The reasons
why are clear. LGBTQ+ individuals in rural areas are more susceptible to harmful
discrimination and often live in places without meaningful LGBTQ+ legal
protections. As a result, many LGBTQ+ individuals turn to the internet to find
supportive safe spaces. Whether it’s to find friends, family, crisis counselors, or
even faith-based groups, the internet connects LGBTQ+ individuals in rural areas to
all kinds of lifelines and resources.
Addressing the ongoing lack of rural internet access will greatly improve the lives of
LGBTQ+ individuals in rural areas. Three primary reasons why stand out – although
there are many more. First, the internet is a powerful tool in countering bullying and
harassment. LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ youth to
experience digital harassment – on top of real-world bullying. Internet access
enables LGBTQ+ individuals to access digital safe spaces, which are proven to help
reduce suicide and self-harm among those in need of help.
Second, robust and dependable internet access has the potential to revolutionize
LGBTQ+-oriented healthcare. Rural LGBTQ+ individuals understand how hard
navigating our healthcare system can be. LGBTQ+ individuals face worse
healthca re access and outcomes than their heterosexual peers including “inequities
support.” Rural Americans are familiar with this problem, too, as many are
accustomed to driving hours on end to access quality healthcare.
For LGBTQ+ individuals in rural America, finding a trusted LGBTQ+-affirming
healthcare provider is rare. That’s where broadband internet comes in. Internet
access enables everyone to find instant support online – whether it’s telehealth, talk
therapy, or crisis counseling. While increased internet access cannot fix every flaw
in our healthcare system, it will unquestionably make it easier for LGBTQ+
individuals in rural areas to live healthier, more fulfilled lives.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, internet access helps build LGBTQ+ identities
and create LGBTQ+-affirming communities for life. For millions of us, rural America
isn’t an escape. It is home. It’s where we want to be. Research shows that LGBTQ+
youth don’t use the internet to get away. Instead, LGBTQ+ individuals in rural areas
use the internet to join the LGBTQ+ world around them and bring back that sense of
LGBTQ+ pride to wherever we call home. No one claims that this will be easy.
Providing Internet access in rural communities presents unique challenges not
present in urban settings, however, it is essential that we continue to connect rural
communities as reliable Internet access can be critical and even life-saving for
marginalized communities in rural areas. Let’s get everyone connected!