Net Neutrality is a Queer Issue

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December 7, 2017
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Net Neutrality

It goes without saying: The internet has changed how humanity communicates. A universe of information, connections, relationships and possibilities exists on just the other side of a touchscreen or keyboard.

And it’s hyper-accessible, particularly for those of us who grew up “digitally native,” or who came of age conversant with the developing internet. These days, that’s most Americans under age 35. In the U.S., we have access to and use an open internet. It is created and governed, largely, by popular use.

We wouldn’t accept AT&T and Verizon controlling whom we called and what we said on the phone. Accordingly, they cannot be permitted such control over internet content, accessibility and speed. But in the absence of net neutrality, it could happen. Such a reality would be a nightmare, particularly for LGBTQ people.

Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted stringent regulations designed to ensure more equitable access to the internet. These rules currently prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon from charging additional fees for high-speed streaming.

Regulations also prevent ISPs from moderating loading times (offering “fast lanes” to those willing to pay more) and blocking websites based on their own arbitrary internal criteria.

The rules banning these practices came about as a result of a decade-long battle between activists and ISPs. They are necessary. And they are under attack.

This is a LGBTQ issue. The very access to jobs, education, health, community and how we get critical information should not depend on your socio-economic class or provider.

This is about much more than Netflix raising prices by $1.

Restricted access to an open internet is deeply problematic. It would be especially bad for LGBTQ youth.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC (and former lawyer for Verizon), has proceeded largely unchallenged by surrounding  the proposed repeal with language like “enabling innovation” and “offering people more options.” Similar logic has been used to justify dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

These arguments stem from a fundamentally flawed premise: without regulations, ISPs (like Verizon) possessing more resources and power in the industry will easily suffocate smaller players with access to less. Those who can afford faster, more content-rich internet will get it.

Those who cannot? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Restricted access to an open internet is deeply problematic. It would be especially bad for LGBTQ youth.

Our movement partners at GLSEN released a study in 2013 that focused specifically on the habits and outcomes of LGBTQ youth on the internet. While it is true that the study found that queer youth experience more harassment and cyberbullying than their straight and cisgender peers, it also yielded significant information on the positive impacts of internet access on LGBTQ youth.

An open internet allows queer youth to get informed, learn about themselves and find community. When only 12% of students report coverage of same-sex relationships in their sex education classes, it’s no surprise that queer youth are five times more likely to search for information about sexuality online. Queer youth are also nearly twice as likely to use the internet to research health and medical information. For LGBTQ youth facing unaccepting school, home and/or community environments, the open internet is a lifeline.

Beyond staying informed, LGBTQ youth use the internet to be themselves and find each other. Twenty-five percent of queer youth report being more “out” online than in person. Two-thirds of LGBTQ youth have used the internet to connect with other LGBTQ people. 

It is a well-documented fact that access to resources and community is critical for LGBTQ youth — indeed, it helps keep them alive. Canonically, earlier generations of LGBTQ people could escape isolation and small-town repression by migrating to The City, but in an era where urban rent costs have far-outstripped increases in income, that respite is well out of reach for most. We must not discount the necessity of access to “people like us” — whether that’s through social media, streaming video content or on sites like Tumblr.

These issues don’t affect LGBTQ youth alone. We all deserve community. We all deserve access to resources and information. Lambda Legal’s “Know Your Rights” section, a compendium of legal tips and information for protecting your rights as an LGBTQ person or a person living with HIV, remain some of our most-visited pages. Week after week, thousands of people navigate to our website seeking information and help with discrimination.

Repealing net neutrality regulations threatens severance of a lifeline for millions of LGBTQ people. The FCC is voting on the proposed repeal on December 14thCall your congresspeople now to tell them you oppose.

Defend the open internet: For LGBTQ people, for everybody living with HIV and for everyone.