Queer people have a lot to lose with the loss of net neutrality.
On Wednesday, several internet giants — everyone from Amazon to Etsy, Netflix to Pornhub — will be joining in a day of action to protest the FCC’s plan to dismantle net neutrality, a set of regulations that ensures that internet service providers can’t slow down certain sites or determine what content users can access with ease.
And a partisan internet could spell trouble for queer people, especially queer youth who use the internet as a vital safe space to explore their sexuality and gender identity, or to form support networks.
In a 2013 report from GLSEN titled “Out Online,” the organization that seeks to stop LGBTQ harassment and discrimination in schools outlined just how essential the internet has become in helping queer youth explore their own identities and form community. Their results found that 2 in 3 LGBT survey respondents reported that they used the web to connect with other LGBT people, with 3 in 10 saying they were more out online than they were in real life. For those who were not out in real life, half said they used the internet to connect with other queer people in the United States.
Their landmark report also showed that the internet is one of the primary places queer youth can access resources about their own bodies.
Given that, in 2015, only about one in ten millennials said that their schools’ health education curricula covered same-sex relationships, it’s no surprise that about 81% of LGBTQ youth use the internet to find out more information about themselves. The number is even higher for trans youth, 95% of whom have used the net to find out about their health.
Earlier this year when a YouTube algorithm snafu restricted a wealth of LGBTQ-themed content from users, queer content creators spoke about the importance that YouTube, and the internet in general, in creating queer communities.
“Kids who want to know about different orientations and definitions and about the history of LGBT people, etc, they can’t access that when their videos are being restricted,” YouTube personality NeonFiona told Gizmodo. “Restricting these videos makes it harder for these kids to find information they need and the community that they’ve been missing.”
And transgender youth have used the internet to create a storehouse of information and personal narratives about trans health including medical transitioning and more. YouTubers like Jamie Raines and Ashton Colby spurred frank discussions about transgender bodies through their content —and helped others do the same.
Queer people have sought each other online since the very beginning of the internet. In 1994, according to the book Virtual Culture, Wired issued a list of the top ten AOL chat rooms on the internet: three were for gay men and one was a space for lesbians.
In a 2014 Huffington Post blog, Indiana University professor Mary L. Gray said LGBT people will be “collateral damage” if the destruction of net neutrality allows internet service providers to determine what content people can see.
“Without Net Neutrality protections, content providers generating critical information would likely have to pay more to get their content into (and from!) the hands of LGBT people,” she writes. “That means [internet service providers] become the de facto gatekeepers controlling what content survives and what content falls by the wayside in the wake of a market-driven content tsunami.”
The FCC voted to rollback regulations in May and then take three months of comments either in support or against the proposal. On Wednesday, when internet retailers stand for net neutrality, they will also — perhaps unknowingly — be standing with LGBTQ youth, who without the internet would and could very well soon be in the dark.