TikTok is where young LGBTQ people of color feel the safest online – We can all agree that the relationship between most young people and social media is definitely a complex one, producing both positive social effects and unique risks to the mental health of these young ones. queer teens currently spend even more time on the internet when compared to their non-LGBTQ peers— often times the energy is spent searching for community and vital connections around identity.
The Trevor Project investigates where young LGBTQ persons of color feel most safe spending their time online in a new study. The Trevor Project added new questions regarding how young gay people felt across multiple major internet platforms in its 2023 U.S. mental health survey, comparing the experiences of young LGBTQ people of color to their white peers to highlight discrepancies. The survey collected data from 28,524 LGBTQ people in the United States between the ages of 13 and 24, capturing a wide range of social media use.
Wilson Lee, Senior Machine Learning Research Scientist at The Trevor Project, said that because social media and mental health are such complicated topics, their work constantly focuses on reflecting as much subtlety as possible.
“There are lots of good things and also, unfortunately, lots of harmful things,” Lee said. “And then they’re also good and harmful in different ways for different people, so [we’re] trying to sort of dive into that.”
According to The Trevor Project’s research, 53% of young LGBTQ persons of color felt comfortable and understood on TikTok, compared to 45% of their white counterparts. On Instagram, 41% of young LGBTQ individuals of color reported feeling comfortable and understood, whereas 38% of white respondents reported feeling the same. There were also slight disparities on Twitter (21% vs. 20%) and on LGBTQ-specific social sites (21% vs. 19%). LGBTQ persons of color who felt comfortable and understood on one site generally felt the same way about another and rarely described one platform as a safe space on its own.
TikTok was the only platform where more than half of respondents (53%) felt safe the most and understood online, according to young LGBTQ persons of color. Discord came in second with 43%, followed by Instagram (41%), and YouTube (33%).
In the opposite direction, disparities were most obvious on Reddit, where only 17% of young LGBTQ people of color reported feeling secure and understood, compared to 21% of their white counterparts. There were additional differences on Twitch (15% vs. 16%), Steam (6% vs. 9%), dating apps (6 vs. 9%), and Facebook (4% vs. 7%).
Exploring gender and sexual orientation is only one part of the puzzle for young LGBTQ persons of color looking for a place to belong online “We know that LGBTQ young people when they go on social media, often can benefit from social support and exploration and things like that — so we know that’s sort of different from their non-LGBTQ peers [who] might not be seeking that as much,” Lee said
“And then, sort of from a different lens, community support is also another thing that young people of color tend to look for in the spaces because not everyone has access to supportive spaces in real life.”
Feelings of safety and understanding aren’t just abstract markers of well-being; they directly correlate to better mental health outcomes. According to Trevor Project data, young LGBTQ people who reported those views about at least one online social place were 20% less likely to have attempted suicide in the previous year and 15% less likely to have had anxiety recently. The protective effect of online social spaces on anxiety was even more significant for young LGBTQ individuals of color.
“These online experiences have very real real life consequences — and they have very real real life consequences for different people in different ways,” Lee said. “So we’re always urging people to, as much as possible, take an intersectional lens when they’re thinking about these experiences because they can be very drastically different.”