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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!

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