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LGBTI digital divide: pioneering research highlights the importance of meaningful digital inclusion for all

Geneva, 20 February 2024 – The digital divide impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) people in specific ways, ILGA World said today, and listening to their stories is essential to building meaningful digital inclusion for all.

Today, the organisation launched Accessing Connection, a pioneering research looking into the complex interplay between disparities in digital access and the unique experiences of individuals and communities of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics.

Researchers have mapped the complexities of the digital divide across perspectives of gender, race and migration status, geographic regions, urban-rural contexts, indigeneity, and disability — amongst others. However, until now, little to no global research existed on the hurdles it poses to LGBTI people. Authored for ILGA World by The Engine Room — a non-profit supporting civil society in their use of technology — Accessing Connection fills this gap, building on data and first-hand accounts of human rights defenders from every region of the world.

 

Download the Accessing Connection report: in English | en español

 

“LGBTI people have found the online space to be revolutionary. It has helped create community, spearhead movements, and provide tools to be heard — including in very hostile environments,” said Daniele Paletta, Communications manager at ILGA World and editor of the report. “However, these possibilities are not equally available for everyone. To date, 2.6 billion people across the world remain offline. For the rest of the global population, accessing digital resources depends on overcoming barriers based on intersecting aspects of their identities.”

The stories told in this report show that, across the world, there is no single narrative around how LGBTI people access connection. While the cost of data, location, and having suitable devices and infrastructures impact anyone’s ability to be online, many LGBTI people face the burden of economic precarity due to difficulties finding employment, harassment, societal stigma, and hostile legislation. These factors impact their ability to purchase devices and afford adequate internet coverage.

Online platforms are often not designed for everyone in mind: LGBTI people with disabilities face access barriers due to a lack of inclusive design practices. The predominance of a few languages over others, added to the active content filtering of LGBTI content, makes it very difficult for our communities to fully use sites, access information, and use it to advocate their rights.

Out of fear for their safety, LGBTI people must negotiate between online anonymity and visibility. As much as with offline violence, survivors of online harassment can struggle to find legal protections, especially where their identities and experiences are criminalised or downright dismissed.

Exclusionary policies push LGBTI sex workers offline into increasingly harmful situations. Surveillance and limitations to freedom of expression pose additional barriers to LGBTI human rights defenders and organisations, which often lack sufficient funding and resources to adopt digital security practices or improve their digital literacy.

Online connectivity has transformed our work as LGBTI organisations and presence as individuals,” confirms ILGA World Executive director Julia Ehrt. “But it creates a vicious cycle as well: those who are most vulnerable and economically deprived are as well most difficult to reach and support. They are at the same time most affected by the harms of online censorship, blocking, and harassment, and this deprives them of crucial opportunities for advocating their rights and building community.”

Despite the hurdles to digital inclusion, however, grassroots LGBTI organisations continue implementing resourceful ways to serve their communities — including the least connected among them.

“The stories we collected in this report show our incredible resilience,” said ILGA World co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown. “We are at the forefront of advancing digital inclusion for all — be it by promoting rural access to internet services and digital security training, mobilising to fight against hostile legislation, translating LGBTI-related materials into local languages, or harnessing the relative safety of online spaces to conduct work or gather the community.”

“We know that being online is not the only way to serve our populations,” concluded Aranda and Brown. “And yet, ensuring meaningful and safe connectivity could open up a whole new avenue of opportunities, especially for those whose voices the digital divide contributes to maintaining unheard. Reaching out to those systemically marginalised — by the digital divide or otherwise — remains at the core of the promise to leave no one behind.”

 

Join us on Thursday 22 February for a webinar where we’ll discuss the findings of the Accessing connection report on the LGBTI digital divide

 

Glossary and notes

Digital divide: The disparity in access to digital technology (including laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets) and the internet.

Digital security: The practice of protecting your data, online activity and identity from threats online. Common digital security skills include creating and using strong passwords, using secure sites, using 2-factor authentication, and being able to identify online scams and phishing attempts.

Digital literacy: The ability to navigate, use and communicate on online platforms. This includes knowing how to use devices, browse and find relevant information on the internet, and stay safe online. Digital literacy determines how comfortable someone is using the internet, which impacts their likelihood of using it to fulfil tasks such as accessing healthcare, voting, attending online events, communicating on social media, etc.

To date, at least 54 UN member States have created or used laws and regulations to restrict the right to freedom of expression in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics issues. See more on the ILGA World Database.

ILGA World – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association – is a worldwide federation of more than 1,900 organisations from over 160 countries and territories campaigning for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people. https://ilga.org

The Engine Room is a non-profit organisation that supports social justice movements to use technology and data in safe, responsible and strategic ways, while actively mitigating the vulnerabilities created by digital systems. https://theengineroom.org

 

A note on terminology

Although the report refers to “LGBTI organisations”, not all the interviewees have LGBTI populations as their primary focus. Nevertheless, their perspectives were instrumental in describing how the digital divide affects our communities.