LGBTQ+

Advice for professionals working with LGBTQ+ young people (YP) aged 7-18

The LGBTQ+ Index of Harms is broken down into the strands from the Education for a Connected World Framework. Each strand of the framework is summarised into at least one likely harm.

Self-image and identity

This strand explores the differences between online and offline identity beginning with self-awareness, shaping online identities and media influence in propagating stereotypes. It identifies effective routes for reporting and support and explores the impact of online technologies on self-image and behaviour. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Harm from being “outed”

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Exploring friendships and relationships, flirting, and starting to date are a natural part of growing up. All YP should have the right to make friends, explore relationships and find people they enjoy spending time with. It is important for LGBTQ+ YP to be able to meet, talk, and share experiences with other LGBTQ+ people their own age. There may be significant barriers for them to be able to do so.  This could be due to social or community spaces not being LGBTQ+ inclusive. It is important that YP are able to have a safe space in which to be themselves.  A lack of ‘safe’ space can stop LGBTQ+ YP being aware of others in their area with whom they can share experiences and form mutual support groups. This can also prevent LGBTQ+ YP from having the confidence to be themselves.
  • The internet provides LGBTQ+ YP the opportunity to meet others who also identify as LGBTQ+, and to talk about their shared experiences. Whilst there are risks associated with making friends and communicating with people solely through the internet, there are also lots of positives for YP if managed safely.
  • Each person has the right to their own sexual orientation and gender identity and chosen name and has the right to maintain these privately and securely. A key problem is when someone, such as a friend or adult inadvertently tells others online that a young person, without their permission, is or may be LGBTQ+ or in fact perceived to be.
  • Any app or service that has a communication element has the potential to provide positive opportunities for LGBTQ+ YP.  These positive elements can enable primary aged-pupils and teenagers a sense that they are not alone. High profile celebrities and sports stars who provide encouragement, blogs and vlogs can be immensely supportive. The apps however can also be the source of hate. Being forced to ‘come out’ prematurely when the young person is not mentally ready can be highly damaging. Even simple questions like “Do you have a boyfriend?” can cause significant problems for LGBTQ+ YP. It can cause YP to deceive, lie or to quash their own emerging feelings.
  • Older LGBTQ+ YP, particularly teenagers, have been known to sign up to dating apps. The motivation is sometimes interest in finding others with similar feelings to themselves. It is also to find people of ‘like mind’ or with similar hobbies, interests and feelings.  This is particularly when there are no signs, where they live, of other people like themselves. Dating apps are intended to be used by consenting adults and should never be used by children and YP. There are many risks for a child or young person who might access a dating app – for example, a child or young person may be exposed to adult content, or may be targeted or exploited by a predatory adult. For LGBTQ+ YP who are not out, being on a dating app can also lead to them being recognised by other uses who are older. These may be friends of people at school, college, church, friends or relations of the young person’s family or their neighbours.  This can lead to gossip and rumour and being forced to ‘come out’ or lose their privacy and security.
  • In some apps, games and chat rooms, the content is not moderated. Underage users may encounter language and images that are adult in nature. There are often mediocre or minimal safety features on apps, games and chat rooms. This means that LGBTQ+ YP are also in danger of their privacy and security being breached.
  • There is a potential that YP might be exposed or ‘outed’ on social media. This can happen on purpose but also inadvertently. This is not just sexual orientation but also different gender identities. YP from primary age through to older teens are at risk of having their gender identities divulged in chat rooms, games and on apps. Their privacy is at risk from others. With some people with whom they talk there is not a problem. There is a danger however that unfriendly people may share their details without permission.

Possible responses

  • It is important to establish safe and secure (age-appropriate) places in which young LGBTQ+ people can share ideas, support and can be themselves. This can be in person but also virtually.
  • All YP need to be aware of the age restrictions placed on different online services, and the significant risks involved with signing up to something when they are underage. Most importantly, primary-aged and teenage users need to be taught how not to divulge information about themselves and taught not to assume the identity of those they are speaking with is correct.
  • Support the young person that you work with, to approach all their online communication safely. It is important to reinforce key online safety advice such as keeping personal information private and not to send images of themselves to contacts. They need to know how to seek advice if anyone they are talking to online asks to meet up.
  • Acknowledge why YP may have used a game, chat room or dating app to meet other people. Is it for example, to find someone like themselves with whom they can relate, share ideas and socialise. Support them to find other, safer ways to meet other YP, for example, through LGBTQ+ youth groups. Similarly, point out where they can access safe online spaces and communities, or local events Let them know where they can go for support if anything concerns or worries them.
  • Teach pupils and train staff about maintaining privacy and how to prevent inadvertent divulging of someone’s preferences, gender identities and sexuality.
  • There are some very effective teaching and learning materials for relationships and sex education and for online safety.
  • Young people who have different gender identities need a safe space in which they can get accurate information that they need. This space needs to be secure and safe so that they can share ideas and interests and socialise with other LGBTQ+ people.

Likely Harm: Online harm & harm to mental well-being

Behaviours/Indicators

  • It’s important to remember that all YP – including LGBTQ+ YP – will have their own, distinctive experiences online. LGBTQ+ YP are particularly likely to encounter certain risks online, but not every LGBTQ+ CYP will experience all of these risks. It’s important to have conversations with the children and YP you support to find out how they use the internet, what risks they might be particularly likely to encounter, and how you can best support them to have safe and positive experiences online. That being said, LGBTQ+ YP may be particularly at risk of experiencing harm to their mental well-being as a result of experiences online.
  • LGBTQ+ YP may encounter homophobic, biphobic or transphobic (HBT) language online, including abusive language directed at them personally: 40% of LGB YP and 58% of trans YP have experienced HBT abuse online (Stonewall School Report (2017). Hearing this language, even when it isn’t directed at them personally, can make LGBTQ+ YP feel there is something ‘wrong’ with who they are, negatively impacting their self-esteem and increasing feelings of anxiety.
  • According to Stonewall and Childnet, ‘Online bullying, sometimes referred to as cyberbullying, is repeated, deliberate behaviour which targets an individual or group of people with the intention of causing hurt, upset or humiliation. It can include anything from sending abusive messages or comments, to impersonating somebody or sharing their personal details online.’ 30% of LGBT YP have been bullied online through threatening, untrue or embarassing comments or messages. Online bullying can be extremely distressing, especially since this type of bullying can happen to YP anywhere, wherever they have access to the internet, making it very difficult to escape. Experiencing bullying can have serious negative consequences for YP, including low self-esteem, infrequent or irregular attendance at school or college, and reluctance to go on to future education (Stonewall School Report (2017).
  • LGBTQ+ YP may be exposed to conversion therapies online. Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological or spiritual means. Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain report on health found that one in twenty (five per cent) of LGBT people have been pressured to access services to question or change their sexual orientation when accessing healthcare services. This number rises to nine per cent of LGBT people aged 18-24. One in five trans people (20 per cent) have been pressured to access services to suppress their gender identity when accessing healthcare services. Seeing this content online can be very distressing for LGBTQ+ YP and may also lead to them accessing or being pressured to access conversion therapies.
  • There may be some additional risks for young trans people online. In particular, young trans people might experience significant distress if historical content about them resurfaces online – for example, if a young trans person made a social media profile before they transitioned, and old photos or posts with their old name on are shared by others. This might be particularly distressing for a young trans person whose friends, classmates or others they interact with online don’t know that they are trans.

Possible responses

  • To counter online abuse and to support positive mental health, it is important that professionals have access to training to support them to develop their knowledge and understanding. There are many training programmes available to help professionals to know how to identify and deal with online abuse.
  • All YP from primary age up need to know how to identify online abuse, how to report it safely and securely and then how to deal with the abuse mentally.
  • YP need to know from primary school upwards that they should think carefully about when and with whom they share personal information online. This includes sharing about their gender identity or their sexual orientation, as well as other details like their age, where they live, where they go to school etc. Remember that YP should feel confident in expressing their gender identity and sexual orientation online in a positive way, if they want to. This might be particularly important for LGBTQ+ YP who are not out at home or at school and use the internet to find LGBTQ+ friends their own age. Young people should be supported to make safe and informed choices about what to share and with whom and should be taught how to use privacy settings to protect their personal information on apps and websites.
  • It is important that YP can describe positive ways that they can interact with others online. Positive and supportive relationships online can be hugely beneficial to their mental health. Signposting towards age-appropriate LGBTQ+ mentors, YP, youth groups and organisations locally and nationally is important.
  • It is important that staff at all levels are trained in the different types of gender identity and sexual orientation and how to support LGBTQ+ YP’s mental health. Staff should have access to training and resources appropriate to the age phase they teach in or work in, so that they can learn more about the needs of the children and YP they support.
  • Staff at all levels need the knowledge to be able to understand the source of online abuse which is often lack of knowledge, understanding or empathy. Strategies to make all people aware that different gender identities and sexual orientations are natural are vital.

This information may also help professionals working with learners experiencing these other harms:

  • Online harm from accessing incorrect or inaccurate information and guidance
  • Harm from unhelpful influencers who advocate or follow unhealthy practices
  • Intimidation, Harassment & Online hate
  • Physical/domestic abuse and mental abuse from services and service users
  • Harm resulting from having an online profile and online information
  • Online harm from accessing incorrect or inaccurate information and guidance

Online reputation

This strand explores the concept of reputation and how others may use online information to make judgements. It offers opportunities to develop strategies to manage personal digital content effectively and capitalise on technology’s capacity to create effective positive profiles. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Harm resulting from having an online profile and online information

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Research suggests that nearly all LGBTQ+ YP see homophobic, biphobic and transphobic content online. Online content can take the form of offensive posts, news reports, comments, images, and videos about LGBTQ+ people, including in online games.
  • When a LGBTQ+ young person researches or looks at an online profile and sees that they are positive about LGBTQ+  it can have a positive impact such as a feeling that they are not alone, that their feelings are normal, and that there are others out there with whom they can share aspects of their lives. Their online reputation can grow in a positive way because they share ideas for social change and for improving communities.
  • If a young person ‘likes’ LGBTQ+ events and stories in the world, social media post, blog etc, it can mean that they become the brunt of jokes, banter, hateful comments etc from friends, social group members, family and their community.
  • Online information can open a YP up to extortion. If they have an online presence any LGBTQ+ YP creates a reputation for themselves for example, as interested in environmental protection, as interested in changing politics locally or nationally etc. By providing information and views online it can give people who oppose their views, particularly those who oppose LGBTQ+ people the opportunity to give negative judgements, attack their reputation as a LGBTQ+ person and to extort information, gifts, money or images from them.

Possible responses

  • Show YP how to build up a positive online persona rather than a negative one which can be misunderstood by others. Professionals could educate YP in how to create positive online images.
  • Teach primary-aged pupils about the nature of online profiles and they can stay forever. Teach them what an online reputation is and that it is sometimes used by employers and organisations to search out their views on matters (although being LGBTQ+ should not ever negatively impact on employment).
  • Show LGBTQ+ YP how to successfully rebut negative views, opinions or posts about gender identities or sexual orientations but still remain positive.
  • Help LGBTQ+ YP to explain the strategies that anyone can use to protect their ‘digital personality’ and online reputation, including degrees of anonymity.
  • Help YP to report online abuse or negative information including how to complain to social media platforms.
  • Show pupils some laws governing online behaviour and reputation and the potential criminal implications of breaking them.
  • Show YP how to differentiate between ethical and legal issues (eg libel, slander, homophobia, injunction, trolling). Teach them about what malicious communications means and that they can be tempted themselves in being unkind to those with opinions they find hostile.

Likely Harm: Intimidation, harassment & online hate

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Many LGBTQ+ YP said that they are ‘trolled’, harassed and intimidated because of their online activity but also just for being themselves. Trans women, trans men and non-binary people for example, may avoid expressing their gender identity for fear of a negative reaction from others. Similarly, YP who are discovering their sexual orientation may also stifle or stop expressing themselves for fear of the response from others.
  • LGBTQ+ YP, particularly those who live in relative isolation or away from any other people like them can become at risk of intimidation and harassment. Young people with different gender identities, for example, may seek out connections online but on occasion may be drawn into in the deep or dark web to find more detailed information. Young people learning about their sexual orientation or gender identity can sometimes only find the answers they need from deeper parts of the world wide web. By accessing the dark web or alternative sites can open them up to chat rooms, social media outlets etc through which they can be intimidated and harassed.
  • LGBTQ+ YP are sometimes exposed to harassment. This can be for example, when someone learns about their sexual orientation or gender identity through online gaming, activity and social media. It can come with a favourable and positive response but it can also lead to intimidation and harassment through hurtful text messages, emails, social media posts etc. It can be direct, that is to the LGBTQ+ young person themselves but it can be indirect through hints to siblings and their friends. It can also lead to social exclusion, for example, not being invites to a social gathering event etc, for example, a group of boys not inviting another boy who is gay to a party and then making fun of them for not attending. An alienated and isolated young person becomes a very vulnerable person.
  • Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) language is endemic on the internet, with almost all LGBTQ+ YP having seen content online and many have been targeted with HBT abuse. The abuse can consist of continual harassment, trolling, and intimidation. It can consist of threats and other very unpleasant conversations.

Possible responses

  • It is important that LGBTQ+ YP know the law. They know what is right and what is wrong. Through this they can recognise when to report something and to whom they should report it. Secure online spaces ‘safe space’ are important. Professionals should have sufficient knowledge of such spaces to be able to signpost YP to where to find them. Not all groups within the LGBTQ+ communities are supportive or respectful of each other. There are in a few cases clashes between groups such as between men and women, between lesbians and trans women for example. The key is to establish groups with mutual respect for all.
  • Ensure that reporting systems are effective and swift for all LGBTQ+ YP. They should know what intimidation and harassment are and when they are happening to them. Particularly important is to recognise indirect victimisation and harassment.
  • Give YP with differing gender identities a guide to being safe from intimidation and online hate. Nearly all YP in many surveys say that the internet has helped them understand more about their gender identity. Online presence and research can really help if the source of the information is valid, accurate and correct. Similarly, for different sexual orientations, correct, accurate and realistic information is key.
  • There is often a positive impact from establishing a support group, youth group or similar in schools, youth centres, etc. It is important that they are supportive of the different gender identities as well as different sexual orientations. Local support networks are vital as a source of information. It’s important that YP who might be questioning their gender identity or their sexual orientation are given access to reliable, accurate information so that they can explore their identity at their own pace and without feeling pressured to describe or label their gender identity or sexual orientation before they are ready to do so. Supportive adults should ensure YP know who to talk to if they have questions.
  • Information about what intimidation and harassment is, and how to deal with it, is very important. Similarly, lessons and advice in schools that make different gender identities and sexual orientations visible and accepted are important. Take care with restorative justice unless the victim is fully in control of the conversations and those present.
  • It is also important to consider the potential negative impact of LGBTQ+ hate and discrimination on cisgender YP and heterosexual YP. This is because the young person’s family and friends may be targeted for abuse because someone in the family has a different sexual orientation or gender identity. All YP need information, someone to speak with securely and a ‘way out’ of the harassment.

Online bullying

This strand explores bullying and other online aggression and how technology impacts those issues. It offers strategies for effective reporting and intervention and considers how bullying and other aggressive behaviour relates to legislation. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Online bullying can affect YP’s mental health, confidence and self-esteem as well as their physical health

Behaviours/Indicators

  • The internet presents significant positives but also significant risks for LGBTQ+ YP with many being the target of online abuse. Primary-aged children start with the internet through school work, research, chat rooms, playing games etc.
  • From primary-aged children through to older teenagers, online activity can lead to threats against them. These are sometimes threats of physical harm and sometimes death threats.
  • Bullying and abuse takes many forms such as, name calling, sharing personal details, derogatory comments and names, messages, videos or memes often involving mean, untrue or embarrassing content.
  • Many LGBTQ+ YP have been bullied online by someone they know, it is also common for this to be a stranger or someone linked to friends, family or community. For those who have been bullied, most do not report the abuse to the website, game or app on which it happened.
  • Unlike with other types of bullying, online bullies can remain anonymous and often deliberately target others when they are in their own home, making their victims feel there is no escape. This is particularly the case in communities that do not approve or condone of LGBTQ+ YP. The threats often involve threatening to tell their parents and carers and are sometimes accompanied by an attempt to extort.
  • Many LGBTQ+ YP experience suicidal thoughts. There are also elements of physical harm such as through self-harm. Emotionally, many LGBTQ+ YP have feelings of guilt, hopelessness, uselessness and have self-esteem issues. Support provided by adults is not always realistic or constructive (“just come off the internet then”.)
  • Evidence suggests that transgender people are at greater risk than the general population of being victims of online crime.
  • Some YP also experience sexual harassment online through overly personal or explicit questions. Intersex and non-binary YP suffer significant abuse such as “Make your mind up”, “Show us that you are a girl.”

Possible responses

  • There are some key statutory requirements, as well as guidance and advice, for all schools and colleges in relation to online bullying. All school and college staff have a legal responsibility to provide a safe environment in which YP can learn, and this includes online as well as physical spaces. All schools and colleges are required to follow anti-discrimination laws, and staff must act to prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation within the school under the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010, Ofsted handbook and framework; the Malicious Communications Act. It is worthwhile providing a level of education about their rights under the law.
  • A helpful strategy is to make sure that YP can recognise online bullying. Some definitions are not helpful for YP because they say something has to be repeated over time. However, if a young person is feeling threatened, harassed victimised, bullied even if it is only once, this should be identified and reported. It is useful to advise LGBTQ+ YP in how to report incidents securely, train all staff so that they take all incidents seriously, know how to respond and give practical, realistic and helpful advice.
  • It is important to have safe anti-bullying reporting systems, as well as teaching about all forms of bullying in lessons and through the curriculum.
  • For primary-aged children there are many story books that can be used to teach about respect, right and wrong and how to recognise bullying.
  • Provide strategies to increase YP’s resilience. Show LGBTQ+ YP how to respond positively. It is important to provide mental health strategies to help YP to tackle the bullying quickly. It is important not to allow bullying incidents to fester.

Likely Harm: Physical/domestic abuse and mental abuse from services and service users

Behaviours/Indicators

  • While many LGBTQ+ YP will have supportive parents, carers and family members who affirm their identity, some LGBTQ+ YP may experience abuse at home because of their gender identity or their sexual orientation.
  • Children and Young People’s Services need to be supported to understand that LGBTQ+ YP have some distinctive needs and require certain types of support. Not understanding and respecting a young person’s needs may increase feelings of isolation.
  • Older teenagers in relationships can sometimes be part of a controlling relationship in which there is mental and physical harm. This can be in the form of withdrawal of affection and care; being forced to wear or not wear certain clothes; being sworn at and abused; emotional attacks.
  • Underreporting of hate crime is a particular issue but also of domestic abuse by siblings, parents, family members and from partners. Some YP with different gender identities can be unwilling to use relevant services for fear of discriminatory and uninformed responses from staff and service users or because they do not think the response will meet their needs. This fear of being badly treated regarding sexual orientation or gender identity can cause harm because they do not continue with the service that they need. The Office for National Statistics records that 28 per cent of transgender people have reported crime more than twice the proportion of cis people.
  • There is evidence of bullying of heterosexual YP with a transgender parent, sibling or family member– this can occur on and offline. This can be emotional or physical. It can come from older or younger siblings, parents, grandparents, close family members or extended family living in the UK or abroad.

Possible responses

  • Maintaining online security and privacy is a vital part of keeping LGBTQ+ YP safe. In addition, creating a safe and caring atmosphere in the service is vital. This can mean strong privacy settings and closed online clubs with access through invite only.
  • Having a professional who can be trusted in key professions such as education, police, medical service is vital. Key to understanding the problem is that YP are unlikely to have the backing of friends and family particularly in families with fundamental or conservative beliefs.
  • An effective strategy is to have a safe and secure online relationship or friendship. Having someone to interact with is important. Online relationships with trusted people can help protect YP from physical abuse and bullying and from abuse within and outside of the family and community.
  • It is important to teach LGBTQ+ YP to have the confidence in online reporting of domestic crime, neglect, crime, harassment, bullying and intimidation.

This information may also help professionals working with learners experiencing these other harms:

  • Intimidation, Harassment & Online hate

Managing Online Information

This strand explores how online information is found, viewed and interpreted. It offers strategies for effective searching, critical evaluation of data, the recognition of risks and the management of online threats and challenges. It explores how online threats can pose risks to our physical safety as well as online safety. It also covers learning relevant to ethical publishing. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Online information can be found, viewed and interpreted

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Many LGBTQ+ YP use the internet to help them to understand themselves, find positive role models and find information and support. Almost all say the internet has helped them understand more about their sexual orientation and has helped them find advice and support.
  • There are negatives to finding information specific to LGBTQ+ YP. Many primary aged children feel that they are alone at home. They feel that there is nobody with whom they can open up or with whom they can ask questions or find information. This is particularly important to YP who are discovering their sexual orientation.
  • Not so deep into the internet is incorrect or misinformation or fake science such as conversion therapies (gay cure). To a vulnerable LGBTQ+ YP, accessing incorrect information can be a significant risk.
  • Young people access information through many devices and quickly can access pornographic, indecent images when they are only searching for information. This then becomes part of a browser history which can lead to significant and negative issues at home or school.
  • It is also the case that some ‘firewalls’ are so strong that they prevent research about LGBTQ+ and can alert the school when the young person is only researching to find information. Some access to youth groups or national LGBTQ+ organisations are blocked.
  • When YP search for information online, the sites they access are not always age-appropriate or reliable. This potentially is a significant harm. Some content is discriminatory, extreme or harmful. The harm is leaving LGBTQ+ YP who are seeking support to end up feeling confused, scared or upset.
  • Experiencing or witnessing this kind of targeted hate speech or abuse can be extremely upsetting for anyone and may make LGBTQ+ YP feel unsafe when using the internet. LGBTQ+ YP who are not ‘out’ might find hate speech and abuse online. This is harmful and particularly distressing. Hearing or witnessing the abusive message might make them feel they can not tell anyone about their gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • There are many examples on the internet of newspaper reports from around the world which show significant hostility to LGBTQ+ people. When the research information, looking for answers but also looking for information and a sense of belonging, YP can suffer significant harm from what they find online.

Possible responses

  • It is important to create strategies when someone has identified as accessing inaccurate or harmful information and guidance. It is also vital they have the resilience and the mental strength to counter what they have read and seen.
  • Identify secure and safe sites for LGBTQ+ YP so that they can find accurate information. These sites can be “whitelisted” if a firewall is preventing access.
  • Communicate secure and safe sites to everyone so as not to draw attention to any individual.
  • Fact-check sites for misinformation and potentially harmful content such as gay conversion therapies.
  • Identify trusted knowledgeable adults with whom YP can consult and confide. With LGBTQ+ YP worries and concerns are sometimes not shared with parents and carers and family members can cause significant risk at home and put pupils in immediate danger.
  • Train staff in what to look out for in the area of incorrect information and guidance and know how to guide them to correct information.

Health, wellbeing and lifestyle

This strand explores the impact that technology has on health, well-being and lifestyle e.g. mood, sleep, body health and relationships. It also includes understanding negative behaviours and issues amplified and sustained by online technologies and the strategies for dealing with them. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: meeting strangers offline  

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Because it is much harder to meet other LGBTQ+ YP of the same age, many decide to make contact online with people whom they have never met. This can be in the immediate locality but also a distance away. Primary-aged children in chat rooms, games and social meeting sites can start discussions and conversations with strangers. Not all strangers mean harm. There are many strangers who provide good and effective support and advice to YP who want to talk about their gender identity or emerging sexual orientation.
  • In some situations, LGBTQ+ YP could become vulnerable by opting to meet up with strangers. This is particularly the case in rural, small towns, and particular communities and it comes with potential risk.
  • Online conversations, gaming and social media can lead to danger. One such danger is a ‘honey trap’ (or ‘Catfishing’). This is where YP are tempted to meet someone, often whom they find attractive, but then the ‘host’ turns out to be someone different, or someone who is aggressive. The motivation is often to find someone of their own age and with whom they can potentially start a relationship.
  • There are also cases of people following or stalking a young person that they have met online. This can involve silent telephone calls to the house at different times of the day or following the young person when they go out. This has, in extreme cases, involved being forced to pose sexually, get involved in under-age or illicit sex acts, drug taking.

Possible responses

  • It is important to not use ‘stranger danger’ particularly for primary-aged children because sometimes strangers are the very people with the knowledge and the organisational support that they need. Personal safety training, such as that offered by the Suzy Lamplugh charity, is helpful because it provides YP with useful and practical tips to stay safe when meeting people they have never met.
  • Personal, social, health and economic education is important because they focus on the dangers of drug abuse, risky activity and how to protect yourself from harm.
  • Lessons in computing and computer science give LGBTQ+ YP the information they need to stay safe online. It is important that those teaching computing are aware of LGBTQ+ YP and how to incorporate them in their teaching.
  • Real life examples and scenarios of positive as well as negative are useful in highlighting positives and negatives of meeting people online.

Likely Harm: Harm from pornography and explicit material online

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Some, but not all, YP have been taught in school about heathy relationships and practising safe sex. The evidence suggests that very few LGBTQ+ YP have learnt about safe sex, healthy relationships, and unhealthy practices in relation to same-sex relationships. Some YP have never received relationships and sex education regarding LGBTQ+ relationships.
  • Pornography and explicit sexual material are easily accessible and available through games, television, telephones and the internet. This can mean that for some YP, their first exposure to LGBTQ+ relationships and sexual activity may come via explicit material. Teenagers are in danger in receiving an inaccurate view of body types, and of acceptable and healthy behaviour. For example, it can leave YP questioning their own shape, size and overall appearance and wanting to change it from its natural growth and development.
  • Being curious about sex and relationships is a natural part of growing up. Viewing pornography can have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ YP, particularly some of the extreme sites. This is also the case in sexualised animations that are available freely online. It can also lead to more risky or violent sexual behaviour, which might leave someone with a warped attitude towards the sexual behaviour they expect to experience.
  • Pornography can also lead to unrealistic attitudes towards gender roles and identities in relationships. Some online sites normalise harmful domineering and controlling relationships which can be therefore dangerous to LGBTQ+ YP who are discovering their sexualities.
  • Through online sites and through videos and television programmes, LGBTQ+ YP can be exposed to adult, violent or discriminatory language about sexual behaviour, relationships, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity.

Possible responses

Strategies for teaching YP about relationship and sex education:

  • For primary-aged children, it is important to read books and show examples of same-sex relationships, for example, families with two mums or two dads.
  • Teach pupils about safe sex in different relationships including same-sex relationships. This teaching is vital to show positive family and loving relationships rather than some of the aggressive and harmful relationships that they have seen online.
  • Teach pupils about realistic body shapes and sizes. It is important that they see and appreciate a wide range of bodies.
  • Teach pupils the correct and positive terminology within relationships and sex education. They should know how to speak to and speak about people in relationships with respect and understanding.
  • It is important to find out and then correct any LGBTQ+ pupils’ misconceptions, myths and inaccurate understanding regarding relationships and sex education.

Likely Harm: Harm from grooming, child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Behaviours/Indicators

  • It is quick and easy, when working online, to find extreme content on the internet. This can be sometimes when researching or looking for something harmless. There is content which promotes extreme beliefs or harmful behaviours. In an increasingly smaller world, images and content from other countries are readily available in any internet search.
  • There is also extreme content which promotes self-harm, suicide, eating disorders and drug taking.  The content can be found across multiple online platforms such as, websites, forums, discussion pages, social media services and video services. Exposure to this kind of content can pose a risk to their mental and physical well-being.
  • Online grooming is a potential harm. By using online apps, chat rooms, social media and meetings sites, LGBTQ+ YP may be groomed by older people. Older people sometimes pose as a younger person to gain favour and to appear to be on the same level as the young person. The groomer sometimes convinces the young person into sending images and videos, live chats, or performing sexual acts with them. This is facilitated by the anonymity of the internet. The older person may give gifts in order to encourage more risky behaviour.
  • Some groomers set up and use fake accounts and stock photos, appear to be the same age as the child such as using old photographs or photographs of random people. Some groomers will be honest about their own age, wishing to appear as a mentor or similar figure for the child they are targeting. There is a danger from private chats or in private forums or using methods with video and pictures that disappear quickly.
  • There is also a high level of coercion such as persuading the young person into sending them sexually explicit photos or videos or money, or, in a few cases, identity paperwork.
  • Some LGBTQ+ YP, even primary-aged children consider suicide and self-harm. This is sometimes a result of bullying, desperation, loneliness, isolation and living in a non-caring environment. A feeling of there being no hope and no way out.
  • Some YP try to access the deep or dark web to seek out how to self-harm and commit suicide. They sometimes become prone to unsympathetic people who encourage them to harm and film it.

Possible responses

  • Train staff to identify self-harm and a young person’s deteriorating confidence. Staff should know which safe space to signpost so that the young person feel safe, wanted and secure.
  • Train staff to be able to include positive statements and images about intersex, non-binary, transgender people and concepts in the different subjects in school and college.
  • Create support groups and networks, mentors and coaches, to allow YP access to trusted positive role models.
  • Include gender identity, non-binary and intersex in policies and procedures such as how to deal with a request for a chosen name.
  • Good sources of information and groups for YP are essential.
  • Identify appropriate counselling and support services suitable to support LGBTQ+ community members with quality advice, support and guidance.

Likely Harm: Harm in the form of sexual harassment

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Sexual harassment can happen between YP themselves but also be It can include memes, doctored images, images, videos, posts and messages. Sexual harassment can include sexual comments or jokes or some ‘banter’. It can also include physical behaviour including unwelcome sexual advances, displaying pictures, images or drawings of a sexual nature. It can also take the form of sending emails with a sexual content, suggestive chat room posts, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive online environment.
  • It can make a young person, particularly in the early stages of discovering their sexual orientation and gender identity, feel threatened, exploited, coerced, humiliated, or upset.
  • For bisexual YP, it can take the form of negative comments and assertions such as ‘make your mind up’ or ‘so you fancy all girls as well as all boys’. Online assumptions and myths can lead to the YP divulging too much sensitive and personal information. Some relationships online are very positive for bisexual YP. These allow them to learn more, become more knowledgeable, become safer and feel that they belong to a community that understands them.

Possible responses

  • It is important that professionals and YP know how to identify and then securely report incidents of different types of harassment.
  • It is important that YP and professionals know and understand the law and which agencies and authorities can act to help and support them.
  • Teaching and training are key so that professionals and YP do not make assumptions but also know how to tackle them. Create a culture of accepting difference. Teaching and training should include all forms of sexuality including bisexuality which is often missed out of training.

Likely Harm: Harm to self-confidence, self-esteem, future careers and social mobility

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Like all YP, LGBTQ+ children from primary age up to those in their late teens have high levels of social media use. They share hundreds of comments and photographs, react to posts, chats, images and videos.
  • Through social media LGBTQ+ YP have pressure to look and act in a certain way that conforms to different societal norms. This includes not just appearance but also careers and professions. The internet is often used as a platform for individuals to share content which offer an unrealistic idea of what is ‘normal’. There is no normal.
  • For LGBTQ+ YP, hormonal and physical changes while growing up can have an impact on their self-esteem and their emotional state. Aiming but never achieving the idealised face and body and beauty online can detrimentally affect their own feelings of self-worth. For example, a lack of known LGBTQ+ adults at school or in their local community could lead to LGBTQ+ YP finding inappropriate role models online, such as those with extreme looks from cosmetic surgery. It is important that LGBTQ+ YP, see a range of body types, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, disabilities and more represented wherever possible.
  • The percentages of LGBTQ+ YP who have thought about suicide are far higher than for other YP. ‘Young Minds’ estimates that one in four YP have had these thoughts.

Possible responses

  • It is really important to make sure that YP know about positive and effective role models. These should include the wide range of sexual orientations and gender identities.
  • Primary-aged children should have access to story books and resources with characters that are strong female characters, that have same-sex relationships, that have different gender identities etc. These books are good resources to show them the positive side of being LGBTQ+.
  • Enable YP to describe positive ways that they can interact with others online and can describe positive relationships that build their self-confidence, self-esteem, feeling of worth and their identity. It is important that they respect and value themselves.
  • There are many resources now that can be used to help YP to recognise, appreciate and value difference.
  • A programme of work to build YP’s resilience, determination, their rights and their confidence would be very important.
  • They should feel confident in expressing their gender identity and sexual orientation in a positive way. This is an important release for some pupils who cannot express themselves as individuals at home.
  • Staff need to be trained in the different types of gender identity and how to prevent mental harm. Similarly, they need to be up-to-date with current trends and fashions in LGBTQ+ life and have the knowledge to steer pupils away from cosmetic surgery.

This information may also help professionals working with learners experiencing these other harms:

  • Online harm from accessing incorrect or inaccurate information and guidance
  • Harm from unhelpful influencers who advocate or follow unhealthy practices
  • Harm from being outed
  • Online harm & Harm to mental wellbeing

Privacy and security

This strand explores how personal online information can be used, stored, processed and shared. It offers both behavioural and technical strategies to limit impact on privacy and protect data and systems against compromise. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Online harm through impersonated online presence

Behaviours/Indicators

  • The internet gives the opportunity to talk to and meet other LGBTQ+ YP. Access to social media sites facilitates conversations between LGBTQ+ YP which can lower anxiety. Private messaging is another popular way LGBTQ+ YP can contact others.
  • The harm online can happen when there is a false Twitter/Facebook or social media account with a false photograph, etc. the young person is sometimes tricked/duped into giving false information and private details including photographs and details of where they live. This can also be, for example, someone impersonating one of their friends to get personal details which they can then spread to others or use for extortion/bribery. This can sometimes lead to harassment, graffiti of where they live, offensive phone calls, ghost calls, stalking, harassment and intimidation.

Possible responses

It is important not to restrict access for LGBTQ+ YP. Many may be in abusive or unsupportive families or communities.

Adults however, to be safe:

  • Should teach students how to identify and recognise false accounts or to go through verification to check the account is real.
  • Teach how any images and videos can be digitally manipulated.
  • Teach YP to understand that social media accounts are not always true and to check authenticity of the people with whom they are playing games and communicating.
  • Teach how to securely report any incidents of harassment or unkind messages and terms Know that fake accounts may be a criminal act and know how to report this to the police.
  • Teach pupils how to use secure and accurate advice such as through safer internet cafes.

Copyright and ownership

This strand explores the concept of ownership of online content. It explores strategies for protecting personal content and crediting the rights of others as well as addressing potential consequences of illegal access, download and distribution. (Education for a Connected World framework – 2020 edition, UK Council for Internet Safety)

Likely Harm: Harm from unhelpful influencers who advocate or follow unhealthy practices

Behaviours/Indicators

  • Nearly all LGBTQ+ YP say the internet has helped them find positive role models with nine in ten saying they can be themselves online.
  • The harm comes when the role models, influencers, etc are negative and suggest potentially harmful things or harmful advice. As they search and surf the internet, not too deep into any search it is possible to find some famous people who have self-harmed, committed suicide, taken illicit drugs, overdosed, overreaching cosmetic surgery etc.
  • In some instances, YP may be encouraged to plagiarise, copy or ignore ownership of brands, photographs, video clips etc. They may also contravene trading law by ordering drugs online such as from abroad. They may also become duped to let go of the ownership of their own images and videos by sending them to others.

Possible responses

  • To promote well-being, it is worthwhile for professionals to suggest positive role models younger and older. The suggested role models, however, need to be checked and vetted to ensure that within their advice or lives they do not advocate harmful activity.
  • A list of a full range of role models would be useful which reflect the full LGBTQ+ community.
  • In YP’s homes and in fostering/adoption placements it would be supportive and helpful to have biographies or online links to positive role models/mentors.
  • Professionals should explain the concept of plagiarism, copyright law and ownership. They should know who owns images once they have posted them.

Useful resources

See our list of useful resources for further support.

Inclusive digital safety resources

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Professional Online Safety Helpline

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Over 13 – Report Harmful Content Professional Online Safety Helpline

Project Envolve

 

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Making the internet safer and more inclusive

Together with SWGfL we've created this hub to provide online safety advice and guidance to support parents & professionals working with children and young people experiencing vulnerabilities.

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