In the 1990s, I was ‘alec20’ on a now long-defunct web platform called gay.com. Although I was a student at New York University, in the most iconic LGBTQ neighborhood in the world, I felt more comfortable exploring my identity online. I made a circle of friends, found resources like the LGBT Center, discovered tons of books, and arranged my first bad dates. This is the experience of many LGBTQ people I know, from back then, and today. The internet has been a life-affirming, and, at times, life-saving tool for generations of LGBTQ people, particularly those most marginalized, and in instances when in-person community spaces are either nonexistent or inaccessible.
Today, as Executive Director of NQAPIA, I also know that the internet is essential to community and movement building. In fact, and especially during this pandemic, much of the ability of LGBTQ advocates and leaders to do our work has been dependent on the internet. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to high-speed, reliable, internet connection. This is why NQAPIA supports policies that help advance broadband access for all.
As a community, we thrive in open and accepting spaces, and this often includes spaces online. But the health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic left many in the LGBTQ+ community with no other option than to return to harmful environments, relying on these online spaces as their primary support systems. In fact, recent survey results from The Trevor Project showed that more than 80% of LGBTQ youth said COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful, but 96% said social media had a positive effect on their mental health and well-being. But what happens when these online resources aren’t available, especially for LGBTQ folks in the AAPI community?
In addition to creating unsafe environments, the pandemic has also given rise to intense anti-Asian hate. Our communities are under attack in a new way –the same survey results from The Trevor Project found that 60% of AAPI LBGTQ youth reported discrimination based on their race/ethnicity in the past year. And even more alarmingly, 12% of youth in our community attempted to take their own lives in the past year. Taking care of our community is critical now more than ever, and access to online resources is a crucial part of that.
Expanding broadband access means more than just connecting our community to the internet, it means access to life-saving tools like tele-health services. Over the last several months, the impact of rising demand for virtual doctor’s visits goes beyond assisting those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The Human Rights Campaign explains that telemedicine can be used for sick and well primary care visits; chronic care management, including diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV and PrEP follow-up appointments; medication refills — including transition-related care; and mental health services and psychotherapy. When our community is connected to the internet, we’re better positioned to receive all types of critical care – and long after the pandemic.
We know now that persistent lack of broadband access is experienced by many in our community and can greatly compromise health and safety. The first hurdle we must overcome to bridge this gap is expanding access to the internet. The second is ensuring that consumers can afford it on an uninterrupted basis. But existing federal programs and pandemic-relief solutions like the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program are not enough to help connect our communities with the digital services and resources needed to find safety and security on a consistent and long-term basis.
The EBB has the potential to provide immediate relief to those in the AAPI and LGBTQ communities facing hardship, but that’s only a temporary solution. By enacting the EBB Program, Congress recognized that a comprehensive, government-funded benefit was the best path to achieve a consistent reliable solution for low-income Americans. And while EBB is a great first step, a more permanent, fully funded solution is needed to bring broadband to all.
The internet is a crucial lifeline for all Americans – but especially the historically marginalized or underserved – so it’s time to make broadband access a priority. And broadband for all means more than just the ability to get online. It’s the ability to create a safe online space where communities like ours can seek professional and personal opportunities without fear or judgement. When we’re all healthy, safe, and connected, our communities can truly flourish.